cover image Woman 99

Woman 99

Greer Macallister. Sourcebooks Landmark, $25.99 (360p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6533-5

In Macallister’s spellbinding novel (after The Magician’s Lie), set in 1888, a San Francisco society woman discovers horrifying treatment of patients after getting herself admitted to an asylum with hopes of freeing her sister. Charlotte Smith is devastated when her beloved sister, Phoebe, is sent to Goldengrove, supposedly an oasis of progressive treatment for mentally ill women. Inspired by Nellie Bly’s undercover reporting, Charlotte uses the cover of a leap off an ocean pier during a lengthy stay with her aunt Helen as a ruse to get herself committed and bring Phoebe home. Once inside, she realizes that many of the committed women aren’t ill at all, but are simply inconvenient, such as a prostitute, an adulteress, and a woman who refused to marry in hopes of pursuing an education. Charlotte suffers daily indignities (such as frigid communal showers), but finds humanity and small kindnesses among her fellow patients. As her time runs out, Charlotte enlists the help of her new friends Celia and Martha, who are planning their own escape. Though Charlotte narrates, Macallister also gives voice to a motley crew of women who, at the mercy of male whims, hide multitudes. Charlotte’s commitment to rescuing her sister is emotionally resonant, and the grim realities of institutionalization in the 1800s offer heft. Macallister sensitively and adroitly portrays mental illness in an era when it was just beginning to be understood, while weaving a riveting tale of loyalty, love, and sacrifice. Agent: Elisabeth Weed, the Book Group. (Mar.)