Lydia Kilkenny is a South Bostonian Irish. She dreams of better things and gets a shopgirl's job in a downtown department store. Soon Henry Wickett is buying things in the men's department and hanging around.
Lydia and Henry marry and Lydia seems to be on the way up. She has married into a Boston Brahmin family and Henry is in medical school. Henry becomes disenchanted with medical school and quits. He asks Lydia to come up with a formula for a remedy that he can sell along with an encouraging letter which will cure a person's ills. Henry takes on a partner, Quentin Driscoll, when pharmacies wish to stock his product.
Then the 1918 influenza epidemic hits and Henry dies. Quentin basically steals the formula which becomes QD soda and makes himself a pile of money while Lydia is submerged in her grief. Lydia volunteers at a hospital which is overrun with victims of the epidemic. She ends up working as a nurse on an island with an experimental ward. The doctors there are studying how the disease is transmitted.
There are two parallel stories: that of the influenza and that of the soda. Both were interesting and one wonders how much of the soda story is factual. Also included were margin notes. I found these notes made the story more personal and at times a little amusing.
First Line: "On D street there was no need for alarm clocks: the drays, ever punctual, were an army storming the gates of sleep."