BONUS: This edition contains excerpts from Meg Waite Clayton's The Four Ms. Bradwells and The Language of Light. 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.
In her light second novel, Clayton chronicles a group of mothers who convene in a Palo Alto park and share their changing lives as the late 1960s counterculture blossoms around them. Linda is a runner who tracks women's progress at the Olympics. Brett has one eye on the moon, where men are living out her astronaut dreams. Southern belle Kath isn't convinced she has dreams outside the confines of her marriage (but she's open to persuasion), while quiet Ally only hopes for what the other women already have: a child. Frankie, a Chicago transplant who has followed her computer genius husband to a nascent Silicon Valley, is the story's narrator and the ladies' ringleader, inspiring them all to follow her dream of becoming a writer. They write in moments snatched from their household chores and share their stories in the park. Though the narration and story lines are so syrupy they verge on hokey, Clayton ably conjures the era's details and captures the women's changing roles in a world that expects little of them. (June) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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June 16, 2008
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Excerpt from The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
The Wednesday Sisters look like the kind of women who might meet at those fancy coffee shops on University--we do look that way--but we're not one bit fancy, and we're not sisters, either. We don't even meet on Wednesdays, although we did at the beginning. We met at the swings at Pardee Park on Wednesday mornings when our children were young. It's been thirty-five years, though--more than thirty-five!--since we switched from Wednesdays at ten to Sundays at dawn. Sunrise, whatever time the light first crests the horizon that time of year. It suits us, to leave our meeting time up to the tilt of the earth, the track of the world around the sun.
That's us, there in the photograph. Yes, that's me--in one of my chubbier phases, though I suppose one of these days I'll have to face up to the fact that it's the thinner me that's the "phase," not the chubbier one. And going left to right, that's Linda (her hair loose and combed, but then she brought the camera, she was the only one who knew we'd be taking a photograph). Next to her is Ally, pale as ever, and then Kath. And the one in the white gloves in front--the one in the coffin--that's Brett.
Brett's gloves--that's what brought us together all those years ago. I had Maggie and Davy with me in the park that first morning, a park full to bursting with children running around together as if any new kid could join them just by saying hello, with clusters of mothers who might--just might--be joined with a simple hello as well. It wasn't my park yet, just a park in a neighborhood where Danny and I might live if we moved to the Bay Area, a neighborhood with tree-lined streets and neat little yards and sidewalks and leaves turning colors just like at home in Chicago, crumples of red and gold and pale brown skittering around at the curbs. I was sitting on a bench, Davy in my lap and a book in my hand, keeping one eye on Maggie on the slide while surreptitiously watching the other mothers when this woman--Brett, though I didn't know that then--sat down on a bench across the playground from me, wearing white gloves. No, we are not of the white-glove generation, not really. Yes, I did wear them to Mass when I was a girl, along with a silly doily on my head, but this was 1967--we're talking miniskirts and tie-dyed shirts and platform shoes. Or maybe not tie-dye and platforms yet--maybe those came later, just before Izod shirts with the collars up--but miniskirts. At any rate, it was definitely not a white-glove time, much less in the park on a Wednesday morning.
What in the world? I thought. Does this girl think she's Jackie Kennedy? (Thinking "girl," yes, but back then it had no attitude in it, no "gi-rl.") And I was wondering if she might go with the ramshackle house beyond the playground--a sagging white clapboard mansion that had been something in its day, you could see that, with its grandly columned entrance, its still magnificent palm tree, its long, flat spread of lawn--when a mother just settling at the far end of my bench said, "She wears them all the time."
Those were Linda's very first words to me: "She wears them all the time."
I don't as a rule gossip about people I've never met with other people I've never met, even women like Linda, who, just from the look of her, seemed she'd be nice to know. She was blond and fit and . . . well, just Linda, even then wearing a red Stanford baseball cap, big white letters across the front and the longest, thickest blond braid sticking out the back--when girls didn't wear baseball caps either, or concern themselves with being fit rather than just plain thin.
"You were staring," Linda said. That's Linda for you. She's nothing if not frank.
"Oh," I said, still stuck on that baseball cap of hers, thinking even Gidget never wore a baseball cap, not the Sandra Dee movie version or the Sally Field TV one.
"I don't mean to criticize," she said. "Everyone does."
"Stare at her." Linda shifted slightly, and I saw then that she was pregnant, though just barely. "You're new to the neighborhood?" she asked.
"No, we . . ." I adjusted my cat's-eye glasses, a nervous habit my mom had forever tried to break me of. "My husband and I might be moving here after he finishes school. He has a job offer, and we . . . They showed us that little house there." I indicated the house just across Center Drive from the old mansion. "The split-level with the pink shutters?"
"Oh!" Linda said. "I thought it just sold, like, yesterday. I didn't know you'd moved in!"
"It's not sold yet. And we haven't. We won't move here until the spring."
"Oh." She looked a bit confused. "Well, you are going to paint the shutters, aren't you?"
As I said, Linda is nothing if not frank.
That was the first Wednesday. September 6, 1967.
When I tell people that--that I first came to the Bay Area at the end of that summer, that that's when the Wednesday Sisters first met--they inevitably get this look in their eyes that says bell-bottoms and flower power, war protests and race riots, LSD.