15 February 2012

Review 13: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

"When five young mothers - Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett - first meet in a neighbourhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born. The five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a a women's movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes - ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. With one another's support and encouragement, the Wednesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big."

I definitely liked this novel but it didn't emotionally affect me in the way I had hoped. I think this was primarily because it was so based in American culture which is familiar to me but for the most part, I haven't experienced these things directly, and also because the women are that little bit older than me and their children are a key part of the story, and another thing I can't personally relate to. Having said that it was a pleasant read and it made me appreciate my friends that bit more.

First Line: '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 hear this story from Frankie's point of view, a young wife and mother who has recently moved to Palo Alto  with her scientist husband. She makes friends with Linda, Kath, Ally and Brett as they watch their children in the park and bond over Miss America and their love of reading and writing. Frankie on the whole is a likeable character but rather bland and functions more as a way for us to see what is going on with the other women and in America. She has concerns over her husband giving up his safe job to start work in a new company and as the writing progresses, over her novel, but it is not the most dramatic of events. My sympathies lay more with Brett, whose constant wearing white gloves hints at something deeper. It was Brett  I sympathised with throughout the novel, who I wanted to succeed and was the most interested to read about. Of course, stories like this with a handful of key characters are designed so that you sympathise with at least one of them, and that is their point. So the five women are all rather different so as to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Having said that, the majority of their plot points revolve around their husbands and children. There are some universal elements such as women's and race right which everyone has some experience with but even these are set in American 60s and 70s culture. I am of course aware of the Miss America pageant but sitting down to watch it with friends and drinks is not something I have ever done with Miss America or the British equivalent. Equally, whilst I found it interesting to see the women attend a womens rights rally and empathised with the familiar feelings that it stirs in them, feminism has different battles it is fighting now so it felt more like historical fiction.I would have liked Waite Clayton to go into more detail on events such as the Vietnam War and the birth of the feminist movement and focused on the historical events rather than the rather saccharine focus on the women's writing.

I wasn't a huge fan of the writing element, despite this being fairly key. It just seemed wildly unbelievable that out of a group of five normal suburban women who enjoy writing, three of them would have success and one would become a successful literary agent. It just isn't that easy to have short stories or novels published, although maybe it was easier in 60s America? Another thing I didn't like was the slightly confused tone towards the end of the novel. One of the women discovers her husband is having an affair which is discussed at length throughout the novel, however in fairly 'family friendly' terms - I would have had no problem recommending this to a teenager reader who was interested in American culture/was a keen writer for 99% of the book. The book throughout is pleasant and hardships are dealt with in a relatively low key way and then on maybe three of four occasions she uses very strong language or describes sex graphically which just really throws you out of the story as it is so at odds with the tone of the rest of the book - it's that I have a problem with the language per se it is just so different to the rest of the novel and I struggle to understand why she chose to use it so infrequently and who exactly her audience is.

Ultimately, I'm finding it difficult to think of things to say about this book. I found it blandly pleasant and I enjoyed it in a vague way but it doesn't have anything out of the ordinary about it. Maybe a young British woman with no children I am just not the right audience.

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