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June 4, 2008

The Wednesday Sisters


The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Contemporary Fiction
2008 Ballantine Books
Finished on 5/28/08
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
ARC - Due out on June 17





When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

~Robert Frost


Product Description

Friendship, loyalty, and love lie at the heart of Meg Waite Clayton’s beautifully written, poignant, and sweeping novel of five women who, over the course of four decades, come to redefine what it means to be family.

For thirty-five years, Frankie, Linda, Kath, Brett, and Ally have met every Wednesday at the park near their homes in Palo Alto, California. Defined when they first meet by what their husbands do, the young homemakers and mothers are far removed from the Summer of Love that has enveloped most of the Bay Area in 1967. These “Wednesday Sisters” seem to have little in common: Frankie is a timid transplant from Chicago, brutally blunt Linda is a remarkable athlete, Kath is a Kentucky debutante, quiet Ally has a secret, and quirky, ultra-intelligent Brett wears little white gloves with her miniskirts. But they are bonded by a shared love of both literature – Fitzgerald, Eliot, Austen, du Maurier, Plath, and Dickens – and the Miss America Pageant, which they watch together every year.

As the years roll on and their children grow, the quintet forms a writers circle to express their hopes and dreams through poems, stories, and, eventually, books. Along the way, they experience history in the making: Vietnam, the race for the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they have ever thought about themselves, while at the same time supporting one another through changes in their personal lives brought on by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.

Humorous and moving, The Wednesday Sisters is a literary feast for book lovers that earns a place among those popular works that honor the joyful, mysterious, unbreakable bonds between friends.

I was chatting with my next door neighbor last weekend and she mentioned that when her children were little, she and several other mothers in the neighborhood would get together for coffee every morning. The woman who lived in our house back in those days would hang a quilt (decorated with a coffee cup) out on the front porch to invite the other mothers to stop by for coffee and a visit. Oh, how I would've loved to have had a group of friends to get together with when I was a young mother. I was a single mom, working and going to school, so we missed out on the whole playgroup thing. It wasn't until my daughter was in 3rd grade that I became a stay-at-home mom, but by that time we were living on an acreage, far removed from a neighborhood full of other young families. I was always a bit envious of those moms who got together on a regular basis, sharing advice on teething, potty-training, and how to deal with a picky eater. However, I did have a couple of very good friends to whom I could turn with my questions, as well as offering my own helpful suggestions when asked. I don't know how any young mother can survive those early years without the love and support of at least one good friend.

Over the years, I've learned that friends come and go, especially when one moves around as much as I have. However, I still keep in touch (though not as often as in years past) with maybe a half-dozen friends that I knew from school. I have about the same number of very good friends who live nearby. Each is the kind of friend who would drop everything and rush to my aid if I needed them - even in the middle of the night. I also have several close friends that I've come to know from online book groups (we now go back more than 10 years!), as well as all the wonderful people I've met since I began blogging two years ago. In many ways, these online groups are much like the gatherings of my neighbor's era. We chat about the weather and what we're reading, share tidbits of news about our children (and grandchildren), discuss our aches and pains and illnesses (our own and those of our loved-ones), and offer up virtual hugs and comfort when one of our pets, children or parents dies. So, between my face-to-face friends and my Internet friends, my life is richer than ever before, even in the absence of a front-porch coffee gathering occasioned by the hanging of a signal quilt.

Meg Waite Clayton offers a story of friendship and loyalty, set against the backdrop of the women's movement. I could easily have been a six-year-old daughter of one of the characters. I have a vague recollection of segregated want-ads and 18-year-olds gaining the right to vote, yet there is probably a lot about the women's movement that I take for granted. Clayton's passion for research is apparent, as she incorporates pop culture and historical facts throughout the narrative, and I enjoyed learning about how it felt to be a young woman and mother during the late Sixties and early Seventies.

I was a little put off by the cliché of yet another friendship book in which one woman has marital problems, another struggles to have a baby, and another faces a serious health issue. However, it was this particular character's illness that drew me deeper into the book, making me care just a little more than I had up to that point.

Recent "friendship books" have centered around book groups, so it was refreshing to read about a group of aspiring writers, thus getting a glimpse into the unfamiliar world of would-be novelists rather than the more familiar world of readers. I have never felt inspired to try my hand at writing a novel (no NaNoWriMo for me!), but I've always been intrigued by the way in which a novel comes to be. Like a beautiful painting, it almost seems like it's been magically created, rather than being the result of long, hard days of solitude and hard work performed under the omnipresent threat of (sometimes brutal) rejection.

The women in The Wednesday Sisters had an annual tradition of watching the Miss America Pageant, something I've never been a fan of and I can honestly say I've never watched it more than once (and don't have any lasting memory of any of it!). However, over the years, I've watched many hours of the Johnny Carson show, so it didn't surprise me that my favorite scene from the book was when the women got to attend one of his shows. I won't spoil the book with an explanation of why they were there, but it was definitely a highlight!

I know I've said it in other reviews, but I have to say once again that timing is everything. It's at times like this that I really hate rating a book. I should know by now that late May is not a good time for me to read anything of substance. I should either re-read an old favorite or continue with some lightweight mystery series. I should also know that sitting in a hospital waiting area or a room in ICU is not conducive to quality reading. Having said that, I believe this book has the potential to be a popular choice among reading groups, as well as one that friends will want to share with one another. It reminds us of the value of true friendship, without resorting to sappy sentimentality and stereotypes. Don't be put off by my middle-of-the-road rating. Lesa has written a lovely review that I encourage everyone to read. And honestly, how can anyone not like a book that includes the following epigram (from one of my favorite authors and book):

Where there is great love,
there are always miracles.
-- Willa Cather,
Death Comes for the Archbishop

Be sure to check out Meg's website! Someone's put a lot of effort into it and I enjoyed it both before and after reading the book.

18 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:53 PM

    Great review, Les. I too like the idea of a friendship novel where the friendship revolves around something other than a book club. Sounds like a great book for summertime.

    Jen

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  2. I just mooched this book, so I'm excited to get to it this summer! Thanks for the review.

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  3. Les,

    Your review didn't read like a "middle-of-the-road" rating, even if you gave it a 3.5. I think you did a more thorough review than I did, although I appreciate the link.

    I think you hit on a couple points that bothered me. Why is there always someone with cancer in every book about a group of women?

    However, this is a good book for book clubs.

    I thought your review was very deep and thorough. Thanks!

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  4. I really liked this review. Over the years, I've read many friendship books and kind of got tired of them. I still like to pick one up occasionally and this one sounds like a good one for me. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I've been blessed to have a group of friends that have stuck together for 25 years, as well as a best friend I first met when my daughter was 6 months old and hers 4 months. It's a wonderful thing to have friends that you can go through the ups and downs of parenthood (and life) with.

    Like you, I've read several books about groups of women whose friendship revolves around a book group, so when I first started reading your review, I thought to myself "Not another one!" The idea that these women aspire to be writers is indeed a different twist. I think it would interest my book club, which includes a number of aspiring authors.

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  6. My first thought is, "Not another one of these books!" There does seem to be a ton of these and it also seems that they are all made into movies.

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  7. Jen - Thanks. And, I agree. I think the variation on the friendship group will be quite appealing to those who enjoy these books, but are tired of the book group theme.

    Tricia - I'll have to pop over and read your review once you've finished. Enjoy!!

    Lesa - Aw, thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I agree. I think this will be a hit with a lot of book groups. Lots to discuss.

    Kay - You're welcome. I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it.

    Janet - It's groups like yours that I'm still envious of. I know a couple of women who get together with the same group of friends every year for a vacation somewhere fun (Napa, San Diego, Scottsdale, etc.). I suppose it's not to late to start something like that now.

    Yep, the writing group is a nice variation on the reading group stories. I think it'd be a great book for your book club since you have a few aspiring authors. Let me know what they think, if you do wind up reading it.

    Natasha - Yeah, it's another "friendship" book, but I think it's much better than a lot that are out there, especially with the writing theme, as well as the time period. I certainly think it's worth reading!

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  8. Yours is the second blog that gave this book a good review. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open for it at the library this summer.

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  9. Stephanie - Did you see Meg's guest blog post over on Books on the Brain? Hope you get it from your library without too much delay. It'll be a fun summer read.

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  10. Very good review Les!

    I totally agree with you about the timing: both for friendship and for rating a book.

    I think that books about friendship - read in the right time - cand help us get pass hard times, motivate and encourage us to believe in the goodness of the humans around us :)

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  11. Booktamer Ama - Thanks for the comment. I plan to set a Women's Friendship endcap at work next month. There are lots to choose from, but The Wednesday Sisters will definitely be included.

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  12. I just received your comment on my blog post regarding this book and came right over. :) I really thought you were going to be disappointed that I didn't like it as much as you, but we ended up having many of the same thoughts (mine in condensed form). How come I didn't see your 3.5 sooner? I probably would have skipped it if I had known that! :) Maybe I had no plans to read it when you posted this. Who knows?

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  13. Joy - Ah, but you never know. You may have enjoyed it a lot more than me. We don't always see eye-to-eye on books! :)

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  14. Les ~ That is a true statement. :)

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  15. Les,
    I really enjoyed your review and I'm going to link it on my review.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!!!

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  16. Staci - Glad you enjoyed the review! Thanks for the link back to it on your blog.

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  17. I love what you wrote about the ladies in the neighborhood meeting for coffee. Sometimes I wish I had a group like that too.

    I think this book sounds okay, I suspect I will like it well enough to finish it, but probably won't fall in love.

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  18. Tara - Thanks for popping over and reading this old review. It was fun for me to revisit it after a year and a half! I, too, wish I had a group of neighborhood friends to visit with over coffee. It's hard enough to find time during the year to get together with girl friends when we're all so busy with our jobs, homes and families.

    I'll be interested to hear your final thoughts on the book. Hope it's a winner for you.

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