Sunday, April 24, 2011

"The Four Ms. Bradwells"

Meg Waite Clayton is the author of the national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters and The Language of Light, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Four Ms. Bradwells, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Four Ms. Bradwells is narrated by Betts, one of the four University of Michigan graduates whose friendship centers the novel. They are just settling in at the Chesapeake Bay island summer home at which most of the story’s events take place. They’ve retreated to Chawterley in the wake of a skeleton they buried during their school years falling from their collective closet thirty years later – a result of investigations as Betts is being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is one of the few pages in the book on which every one of the main characters in the front story is referenced. The three generations of women in the novel are all there: the Ms. Bradwells (Mia, Laney, Ginger, and Betts); Ginger’s recently deceased mother, Faith, who served as mentor to the other three; and Annie and Iz, a.k.a. “the Baby Bradwells” – two daughters now in college and graduate school. Max, who plays a role in the novel’s present love story, is also referenced, as is Beau, the love interest in the school-year-period love story, and his brother Frank.

The four Ms. Bradwells are simply making dinner together and pulling out a Scrabble board in this scene. The reader is given a glimpse of the extravagant summer home in which most of the events of the story take place:
[Ginger] leads us through the Music Room, the Tea Parlor, the Ballroom Salon. We’re headed the back way to that funky hidden doorway from the Ballroom into the Captain’s Library. A door hidden behind a bookshelf on the library side and behind a large painting on the Ballroom side.
The four friends banter in the way they do throughout the novel, an interaction that is one part competitiveness and one part deep and long-lasting affection:
“Who’d’ve guessed I’d be as able to wallow in my own feelings at fifty-one as I was at twenty?”

“Fifty-two, Ginge,” I say. I don’t know why I know this will make her laugh, but it does.

Ginger pitches the head of lettuce good-naturedly at Mia, saying, “Still, I’ll always be younger than all of you!”
Laney asks about a line of poetry Ginger quoted earlier:
“Those lines you were saying at the front door, Ginge, about the folded sunset, did you write them?”
The scene is in some ways an eddy in the stream of story that rushes the reader through the opening scenes. Readers of page 69 will get a sense of the setting and a feel for the characters, but will get little sense that there is a long-buried secret the Ms. Bradwells have kept that affects them all – a secret long-established by this page, with the first revelation of the details occuring just a few pages later. Nor will the reader have any idea why the choices each generation makes are so important for the next – something that comes, I hope, from reading The Four Ms. Bradwells in its entirety. It’s a novel meant to be a fun read as well as a thought-provoking one.
Read an excerpt from The Four Ms. Bradwells, and learn more about the book and author at Meg Waite Clayton's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue