Gifted, Entertaining, and Mysterious—A GEM of a Novel!
Summary: On the eve of Betts potential confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, she retreats with three of her former law-school classmates—and best friends—to their popular Chesapeake island getaway. Along with the summer house, they also revisit their memories of a tragic spring weekend spent there that changed their lives completely. Their memories of that weekend—some shared and some withheld—and the decisions they will make this weekend will be just as life-changing as the last time they were there. As they share secrets they’ve kept for over 30 years, the mystery of what really occurred comes to light. Told from the alternating points of view of these four friends, the narrative also flashes back and forth from the present to that fateful spring break in 1982. Although the time and perspective transitions are well-marked, readers must stay on their toes not to miss them.
Characters: I love a good “girlfriend” novel—and “Bradwells”, like its predecessor, “The Wednesday Sisters” did not disappoint. The main characters are the four former law students: Mia “the Savant”—an unemployed journalist, Betts “the funny one”–a college professor and Supreme Court nominee, Laney “the good girl”—an attorney and candidate for the Georgia state senate, and Ginger “the rebel”—an attorney turned poet. In addition, their mothers and daughter play strong supporting roles. In particular is Ginger’s mother, Faith, (an attorney in an era when most women didn’t even work—much less hold professional positions) who enjoyed playing mentor to all of the “Ms. Bradwells”. Don’t be put-off by all of the lawyers running around—that element does provide intelligence to the characters—but they still walk around with both feet on the ground.
Themes: In addition to Friendship—and all of the jealousies, complexities and tenderness that implies, the Mother/Daughter theme is strong throughout. The author skillfully juxtaposes the daughter in one generation, later playing the mother in the next, and through this role reversal she gains insight into her own mother’s motivations and sacrifices. Also the theme of Feminism is strong—sexual politics, gender power, and the abuse and discrimination that can result from the same. Love and Loneliness, and Secrets and Truth are explored as well.
Why Book Clubs Will Love it: In addition to the very discussable themes already outlined, at its core the novel is also a page-turning mystery—with suspense continuing to build until the very end. It almost has a vibrant “Who shot JR-type” thread running throughout—without the trashy melodrama—making it a compelling read.
It is also an intelligent novel—without trying to be too high-brow, and it’s clever without trying to be overly “wink, wink”. Meg is witty with her details such as: the way in which the women are dubbed “Ms. Bradwells” their first day in law school; the name of Faith’s boat: the Roe v. Wade; and the alumni news that she inserts as an epigraph in many of the chapters, e.g.: “Law Quadrangle Notes, Spring 1992: Ms. Helen Weils (JD ’82) and her husband Will Robeson are happy to announce the birth of their third child: Ginger Elsbieta Mary Robeson, a.k.a. Ms. Gem Robeson-Bradwell.” (She was named after the other three Ms. Bradwells: Ginger, Betts, and Mia)
There was only one small scene at the end that I found to be over-the-top (this from the queen of over-the-top) and not in sync with how the characters would respond—but that was a small distraction from on overwhelming enjoyable read.
I predict this will be a popular book club title—pick up a copy when it releases tomorrow, March 22!
Links and Details:
The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton.
Ballantine Books, $25.00 (336p) ISBN 978-0345517081
Author’s Website: www.megwaiteclayton.com
Author’s Blog: megwaiteclayton.com/1stbooks