The Four Ms. Bradwells: Review

The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

Release date: 2011 / 317 pages

Synopsis (from the back cover): Mia, Lainey, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, are gathered for an impromptu reunion as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her Supreme Court appointment. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” since their days at the University of Michigan in 1979 — when only three women had served full Senate terms and no woman had ever been appointed to the Court — the group has long supported one another through career changes and failed marriages, births, and deaths. But when the Senate hearing uncovers a thirty-year-old skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past…

First Sentence:  Betts is sitting alone at a table with two untouched water cups, the pen I gave her the day we graduated from law school, a clean legal pad, and a microphone.

Review:  I’ve been meaning to read The Wednesday Sisters for a while, so when TLC contacted me about reading and reviewing The Four Ms. Bradwells, I agreed and was glad for the opportunity to experience Clayton’s writing.  However, The Bradwells is a novel that I appreciated, more than enjoyed. 

Clayton’s narrative structure is impressive, meting out clues and tidbits of information about a crime that occurred over 20 years ago through a series of flashbacks interspersed with the present day, all set against a Supreme Court nomination. In addition, I appreciated how Clayton was able to balance “message” with “story.”  The four characters each represent different aspects of womanhood and embody a clear feminist perspective — from their insistence on the use of “Ms.” in the first few pages to their choice of wardrobe during the finale — as well as fully realized characters.  I especially loved how Clayton referenced many of my favorite poets, too — from Bishop to Rukeyser to Oliver to Dickinson.  Bits of beloved poems are always such a welcome gift in novels!

However, after I had finished the first few chapters, I wondered if I was reading a sequel without having first read the initial novel.  I even checked to see if the characters were the same as The Wednesday Sisters — but did not find this to be true.  I felt a bit “in the dark” — as if I was expected to know more about each character early on than I did.  Then I wondered if Clayton wanted the reader to feel excluded a bit — intentionally left outside the circle of these four women.  On one level, feeling like an outsider worked well since the four had been close and fairly exclusive friends, with husbands and even children as secondary players.  On another level, this barrier to intimacy was a function of the secret they were harboring — that very few were privileged to, including the reader until the very end. 

But on another level, I realized I simply didn’t feel connected to any of the women even when I turned the last page.  I felt compassion, admiration, certainly bewilderment at times, but never affection.  This, too, may have been due to the narrative serving as a vehicle for the message — which I understood and appreciated, but my enjoyment of the characters and even of the novel itself eventually seemed secondary to the message, too.  At times, even the prose felt a bit distant or intentional as well:

I try to focus on how much I did love this place those first days: the white houses at the public end of the island perched like lilies on a soft summer pond; the boats arriving with their catch, all the men here crabbers; the children luring baitfish into mason jars with bits of bread and lines of string. I recall one mama crying out, ‘Run nor’east, honey!’ to a girl with a kite who changed direction as if she were a compass. I almost wish Willie J and Manny and Gem and Joey were still little like that, still needing me to help them decide which way to run to catch the wind.

But overall I am glad that I read The Bradwells and do believe many readers would enjoy it.  Interested in winning a free copy? Drop me a comment below and I will choose a lucky winner by the weekend!  Feel free to check out the other stops on the tour, too:

Tuesday, March 22nd: Booking Mama

Wednesday, March 23rd: A Cozy Reader’s Corner Reviews

Thursday, March 24th: Luxury Reading

Monday, March 28th: Take Me Away

Tuesday, March 29th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog

Wednesday, March 30th: Bookstack

Tuesday, April 5th: Stiletto Storytime

Wednesday, April 6th: Books Like Breathing

Thursday, April 7th: Book Addiction

Monday, April 11th: Debbie’s World of Books

Monday, April 11th: A Cozy Reader’s Corner Reviews (author guest post)

Tuesday, April 12th: The Lost Entwife

Thursday, April 14th: Colloquium

Thursday, April 14th: Book Chatter

Tuesday, April 19th: My Reading Room

Wednesday, April 20th: Book Club Classics!

Thursday, April 21st: Proud Book Nerd

Friday, April 22nd: Peeking Between the Pages

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7 Responses to The Four Ms. Bradwells: Review

  1. Lisa Garrett says:

    I would love to read this! Thanks for the review!

  2. Ti says:

    Thanks for the trackback. I think you did an amazing job with this review. I also felt very detached from these characters. I wanted to know more about them BEFORE they were the Bradwells.

    However, I appreciated the fact that these were strong women, successful in many ways. It’s not something you see all that often in literature.

  3. Ti says: do not need to include me for the giveaway. Not sure if that was clear.

  4. Tamara says:

    Please include me. I want to know the secret!

  5. Anita Yancey says:

    Sounds like a great book, one I don’t think I could put down. Please enter me. Thanks!

  6. Rose says:

    I thought this was a great review – you’ve enticed me to be interested in the story as well as adding your views and judgement on how well it worked. I’d like to enter for the giveaway – but I’ll add it to my TBR pile either way!

  7. I do wonder if that was the author’s intention – to keep the reader on the outside of the women’s close-knit circle. It’s certainly one way to interpret this book.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

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