Synopses & Reviews
Meg Waite Clayton’s national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters
was a word-of-mouth sensation and book club favorite. Now the beloved author is back with a page-turning novel that explores the secrets we keep, even from those closest to us, and celebrates the enduring power of friendship.
Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.
But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.
Once again, Meg Waite Clayton writes inspiringly about the complex circumstances facing women and the heartfelt friendships that hold them together. Insightful and affecting, The Four Ms. Bradwells is also a captivating tale of how far people will go to protect the ones they love.
"Four friends confront a secret from their past in Clayton's disjointed follow-up to The Wednesday Sisters. Thirty years ago, Laney, Mia, Betts, and Ginger were roommates and best friends in law school. Collectively nicknamed the Ms. Bradwells by a professor (after a woman who fought to be admitted to the bar in 1873), their relationship has weathered marriage, divorce, children, and death, but when Betts's Supreme Court nomination is threatened by questions about the death of a young man at a party they attended decades ago, the women retreat to the scene of the crime Ginger's mother's summer house to untangle the past. But this clunky novel is less about that mystery its poky reveal stretches the limits of human patience and more about the women's histories and careers, and the complexities of their friendships and families. Clayton finds some traction in discussing what it means to be a woman in both public and private life, but lack of individuated voices (poetry-quoting Ginger is the only unique one among the four) and unruly swerves between past and present make following the story more work than it should be. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
About the Author
Meg Waite Clayton is the author of the national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters and The Language of Light, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband and their two sons.
Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1- The four Ms. Bradwells have distinct Bradwell nicknames based on things that they revealed during their first law school class. Do you think these nicknames suit them? In what ways do you think each stays true to her nickname? In what ways do the women flout them?
2- What did you learn from the Law School Quadrangle Notes chapter epigraphs? What insights did they give you into the evolution of the Ms. Bradwells’ friendships that wasn’t conveyed in the rest of the narrative?
3- Ginger goes to visit Annie on her 18th birthday, just as Faith came to visit on her 21st. How do the two different visits reflect the different mother-daughter relationships? What do you think Ginger absorbed about mothering from Faith? Is she a better mother, or worse?
4- How do you think race factored into the Ms. Bradwells’ decision not to go public with the rape? Do you think it would have turned out differently if Betts or Mia had been raped instead of Laney?
5- What do you think compelled each of the Ms. Bradwells to study law? Why do you think none of them is still practicing in the traditional sense?
6- At one point, Mia muses on the four Bradwell mothers: “It strikes me how different Faith and Mrs. Z are, and yet how similar. How different Ginger’s and Betts’s relationships with their mothers were, and how similar, too. Were Laney and I luckier, to have mothers who wanted for us but didn’t expect?” What do you think she means by this? How would you compare Matka and Faith? How have their similarities and differences shaped their daughters?
7- Isabelle, in a fight with her mother, says that Mia is the happiest of the Ms. Bradwells. Do you think that’s true? Why do you think Mia never remarried?
8- Mothers are very important to the story, but fathers mostly lurk behind the scenes. Why do you think this is? How do you think each of the Ms. Bradwells was influenced by her male role models, or lack thereof? In what ways do you see this reflected in the next generation of Bradwells?
9- Why does Betts kept her conversation with Faith to herself for so many years? Do you agree with her that talking about it could have helped Ginger and Faith’s relationship? Do you think Betts suspected Faith of killing Trey? Did you?
10- Would The Four Ms. Bradwells have been a different reading experience without Ginger’s poetry, Laney’s Latin, Betts’s quirky turns of phrase, and Mia’s photojournalist’s eye for defining details? Why is it significant that Faith left the letter to Margaret wedged into the pages of Anne Sexton’s ‘Briar Rose’?
11- Reread the epigraphs to Part II and Part III, as well as Ginger’s thoughts on pages 200-202 about the New York Times article. Were you surprised by the statistics? How, if at all, did this novel change your perceptions about violence against women? Do you agree with Muriel Rukeyser’s answer to the question “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?”
12- When Ginger arrives on Cook Island, she quotes from Elizabeth Bishop: “Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?/Where should we be today?” How do you think she would have answered that question at the end of the book?
13- The book ends with Betts opening both a literal and figurative door for the Ms. Bradwells and their daughters. What do you imagine the future holds for Annie and Izzy and Gemmy and the rest of their generation? What sacrifices have their mothers and grandmothers made in their names, and what sacrifices they will make for their own daughters? What aspects of these relationships resonated with you most personally? Would you share this novel with your daughter? Your mother? Your best friend?