Perhaps the most interesting thing about Judy Dailey’s Forget You Ever Knew Me, is the willingness of the author to use her compelling thriller to embark on a critique of larger social issues, both historical and current. This is not the stuff of conventional genre fiction; this is the stuff of the best of genre fiction, genre fiction reaching beyond its grasp.
Set primarily in the small Indiana town of Zillah, the novel traces both events in 1952 when doctors Maggie and Bennett Kendall and their child come to town to take over his deceased father’s medical practice, and the effects of those events forty years later after Bennett’s death. The Zillah of 1952 as Dailey presents it through the eyes of Maggie, very much a modern woman, is not the idyllic small town so often glorified in American mythology. The townsfolk are intolerant. Racism is rampant. Women need to be kept in their place, the kitchen, the bedroom, and perhaps the country club. Anyone who disagrees is likely a Communist, and Red baiting Senator William Jenner is there to root them out. Indeed, he is running for re-election.
Zillah, then, is not the kind of place that will welcome an aggressive lady doctor with modern ideas about what a physician ought to be and how she should practice medicine — even whether she ought to be practicing at all. But when she talks about treating the poor, treating blacks, and treating them whether they can pay or not, worms are quick to emerge from the can she’s opened. Maggie is very much the modern woman placed in an almost Medieval environment; nothing good can come of it, and nothing does. After the mysterious mutilation and murder of a black custodian, Maggie flee,s leaving her family behind.
Fast forward to 1992, Bennett has died, and when Maggie hears that one of the locals is about to be appointed to the Federal bench, she decides she needs to return and stop him. She has had no contact with her family for 40 years. Zillah has changed some in her absence. There is a female police officer. There is a bar where it seems a white woman can dance with a black man. There has been an explosion in Mexican immigration. But when it comes to local attitudes, it would seem there is more to be done. She puts up at a local motel, and while she is out a chamber maid is murdered in her room. With this as her set-up, the bulk of the novel takes the reader back to 1952 to explain what happened.
Why did Maggie leave? Why did she return? What, if anything, do these murders have to do with each other? These are the questions, and Dailey manages to tie the answers together in a carefully plotted narrative where, unsurprisingly, people aren’t always what they appear to be.
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