The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

Thursday, March 31, 2011


The Four Ms. Bradwells
"This will cost you the Court, Mom," Isabelle repeats. "It will be a scandal. A woman who was wild like that now up for the Court?"

"A woman," Ginger says. "Would you feel differently if we were talking about a man?"

Meg Waite Clayton's The Four Ms. Bradwells is about four best friends who find themselves pursued by a horror from their past - a mysterious death that happened almost 30 years ago. Ginger, Laney, Betts and Mia have been close friends from their law school days. They have stood by each other through all their individual adversities and celebrated each others' happiness. At the moment the story begins, Betts is at her Supreme Court appointment hearing, when a senator asks her about her involvement in the murder. This opens up a can of worms as Betts denies having anything to add to the public record on that matter and the four friends make a getaway to Ginger's summer house, which was where the whole tragedy happened. There they spend the next few days reminiscing over their friendships, the good and bad decisions they made, their relationships with each other, all in the context of finally talking about what happened that fateful night.

The moment I read the synopsis of this book, I was sure that this was not a book for me. I don't usually read about women friendships, mostly because they've always sounded fake to me. Any girl or woman who's been in a close friendship with another girl/woman knows fully well how complex that relationship is. Besides, this book sounded like chick-lit to me. Not the funny/hilarious chick-lit, but the more serious kind. But I still went ahead and accepted this book for review, because I know how much Meg Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters was loved. I haven't yet come across someone who didn't recommend that book to me, so with some expectation and plenty of trepidation, I started reading this book.

The first 50 pages of this book were really slow. There was a lot of background buildup, and surprisingly, even flashbacks (which I've never felt to be a strong writing tool in the first few pages) that really confused me even more because I was yet to get invested in the characters. However, the rest of the book was simply awesome. I have to say that even I'm surprised to admit it, but this book was really nothing like I expected. For one thing, this is not chick-lit at all. Sure it's about women, and it's about women relationships and their whining and complaints, but the way it's all packaged is very different and powerful. The first thing that appealed to me was that this friendship was about the most realistic that I've ever read. These women had issues, they bickered about each other - not in a childish way though. There were times they didn't believe in each other and times when they felt insecure or left out. Each envied another for something they didn't have - be it a child, a lover, or attention from the male population. And yet, they stuck together - not with blind faith, but very humanly. They had issues and they were very adult about it, or rather very women about it. And you know what? I identified very strongly with the four friends and with their issues and non-issues.

When you have four women together - especially very ambitious ones like these four, you can expect there to be a lot of feminism and never-say-die attitude. There are so many women issues that Meg weaves into the story, without it ever feeling like a lecture on the worldly problems of the female gender. The four friends earn the nickname Ms. Bradwells in their first lecture class in law school where they analyze the case of Myra Bradwell's application to the Illinois bar after having passed the exam. Myra's admission was denied by the court because she was a woman.
The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life...The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.

~ US Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley in the Bradwell v. Illinois.
These friends have very high ambitions for themselves. When they share their dreams with each other, there is no "do you think it's a practical goal" talk. There's only sharing of strategies and important network contacts. Encouraging their efforts is Ginger's mother, Faith, a lawyer and staunch advocate for women issues, who also strives hard to upkeep her public profile. Never once did she stop pushing the girls to achieve more and dream higher.

There are several strong powerful messages spread through this book. Most are positions we (probably) believe in or would stand for. I myself must have dictated similar messages a hundred times in my life, but what sets this book apart is how very articulately they are expressed. Women equality is something that many have fought for, for ages. As a woman, I assume or like to believe that being women, we do not show any bias against other women, and yet The Four Ms. Bradwells shows how very untrue that is. Even the strongest supporter of women welfare can squash a woman's right to freedom in the interest of promoting the women rights matter in general. It's like accepting a bribe to push forward an anti-corruption bill faster to the voting stage. Haven't we women been our biggest stumbling block sometimes? If all this sounds very dense, let me assure you that the book is hardly that. My point is to express how very powerfully Meg puts forward a message or sentiment. Even I had several eyebrow-raising moments especially when I was clinging to my prejudices.

I was however not too blown by the ending itself, although I loved the manner in which it was written. I saw it coming much earlier, but instead of making it still appear anticlimactic, Meg gradually weaves it into the story, almost as if she too expected us to have come to the same conclusion by then. I thought this manner of writing the ending was smartly done by the author, since she doesn't underestimate her reader and lets it slip that she knows we already know what the ending might be. I am a big fan of writers who can do that. What I didn't like much was how the ending suddenly became too comical, keeping in mind that these were 50+ year old women, each having lived under the public eye for a really long time. Other than this jarring note in the ending and the slow start, I thought this book was plain awesome. It did take me a long time to finish this book, but halfway through I realized that I didn't want to finish the book - the journey was just so rewarding!

I received this book for free for review from Goldberg McDuffie CommunicationsThe Four Ms. Bradwells was released last week on March 22nd. Check it out on the publisher's pageGoodreadsAmazon and Barnes and Noble. To visit the author's website, click here.


18 comments:

Misha said...

This is one of my most awaited books for this year! I agree it seemed like a chick-lit, but I had loved The Wednesday Sisters so much! I am glad to hear that the book has more depth than what might appear and sends out powerful messages. Now I can't wait to read the book!

hcmurdoch said...

I had no intention of reading this book, but now you have me sold! Thank you for a fantastic review, Aths!

Laurel-Rain Snow said...

I loved The Wednesday Sisters, but this one, not quite as much. It was enjoyable, and I liked the issues. But I also found the beginning slow and the ending left me a little...disappointed.

Overall, a good one, though. And I do like recommending this kind of women's book, because, as you point out, it is NOT chick-lit and it delves into great issues.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

It sounds like a book to savor.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy... said...

Great honest review :)

Amy said...

This book sounds fantastic! You review, particularly your comments about the ending of the book, really intrigue me! I like the story-line and the four women in Meg Clayton's new book and am looking forward to reading it! Thanks for a great review!

S. Krishna said...

I agree, this one started slow, but I really enjoyed it. Great review!

Lisa said...

Wow am I looking forward to this one now! When someone starts a book expecting not to like it but becomes entirely won over, that really speaks to me.

Carrie D-L said...

I actually just abandoned this one but now I'm rethinking that. I typically love shifting narrators, but this novel made me realize I dislike getting to know them all at once in the same scene. Introducing them differently would have helped.

Athira / Aths said...

I loved that it wasn't chick-lit. Now I need to pick up The Wednesday Sisters.

Athira / Aths said...

You should check it out - it might even surprise you.

Athira / Aths said...

I did hear from many others that this one was not as good as The Wednesday Sisters. Since I liked this one, I'm really curious about how much I'll enjoy TWS. I have to check it out soon.

Athira / Aths said...

It sure is!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks!

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you really enjoy it. I found this book intriguing, and could relate to the four women easily!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks!

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

Athira / Aths said...

That's part of the reason why I found the book slow initially. I couldn't handle getting to know four new characters at once either. I found I had to put the book down a couple of times. It was after about 50 pages that I could read without getting distracted.