Saturday, July 20, 2013

"The Wednesday Daughters"

Meg Waite Clayton is the nationally bestselling author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, The Wednesday Sisters, and The Language of Light—all national book club picks.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Wednesday Daughters, her latest novel, and reported the following:
The flap copy of The Wednesday Daughters, a sequel of sorts to my New York Times bestseller, The Wednesday Sisters, describes it as a novel about “mothers and daughters, best friends who become family, and secrets and dreams passed down through generations.” Much to my delight, page 69 bears this out!

The mothers in the novel are the Wednesday “Sisters” (actually friends) of the prior novel, but The Wednesday Daughters is a stand-alone novel; readers don’t have to read The Wednesday Sisters to make sense of the new book. In the new novel, three friends—ranging in age from late 30s to early 50s—travel together to a writing cottage in the beautiful English Lake District. They are searching for answers about one of their mothers, and about themselves.

Page 69 marks the end of a chapter in which one of the daughters, Anna Page, finds herself lost in a woods on Lake Windermere—which is said to be haunted by the Crier of Claife—just as darkness falls. The passage is evocative of the English setting, although here it looms scary and dark where for much of the book it is the more lovely setting you find rendered by The Tale of Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter (who appears as a character of sorts in the novel) and the poet William Wordsworth, both of whom made this area their homes and wrote about it. Let’s just say that you can’t smell scones cooking in this scene.

It’s also one of the few scenes in the novel in which a character appears alone.

The scene is very much a metaphor for what all three friends are experiencing. Hope, Julie, and Anna Page are lost in some way, just as Anna Page is literally lost here. All three are trapped between difficult choices, just as Anna Page is trapped between what appears to be a poisonous snake on the path going one way, and an unidentifiable shadow in the other direction. All three are examining the turns they’ve made in life just as Anna Page is examining the turns she’s made on the path home, and wondering if they have gone the wrong way.

Will it give away too much to say that the last sentences of the opening paragraphs of the novel read “We are, in the Wednesday Circle, our mother’s daughters … And this is our story, which is, I suppose, a love story. Or two. Or, actually, probably four.”—and that this scene marks a precursor to one of those love stories?

Here it is:
Why had her mother spent all those years holding on to something that never was? Was that motherhood? Sacrificing your own happiness for the illusion of a normal home?

The stone wall [Anna Page had] followed uphill was nowhere in sight, and the path before her forked where she could see it wouldn’t have seemed to from the other direction. She’d have had to look back to the left to see the merging path. Or to the right? One of those funny path drains slanted away at her feet beyond the split on one side. She’d stepped over one, but was it this one? She stepped onto the path without the slanted drain and looked back at the tree with the funny curving split, trying to remember whether this was the angle from which she’d first seen it.

She started paying attention then. The light was fading fast, the air thick with the smell of dead leaves and moss and wood. The quiet of her feet on the soggy leaves and the slippery stone met the occasional scamper of a red squirrel, or a deer, perhaps. Wild boar used to inhabit these woods, Graham had said, but no longer did. Of course, cougars didn’t patrol the streets of Palo Alto, and yet one ended up in a tree on Walnut Drive. The poor creature hadn’t done a thing to anyone, but he’d been shot dead.

Anna Page came to another fork, both paths leading downhill, which should be toward the lake. She took the wider one, thinking surely the path she’d come up hadn’t narrowed as much as the other. When the path forked a third time, both paths heading uphill, she knew she’d taken the wrong fork at the funny tree. And it was getting so dark so quickly.

She was making her way on the slippery rock path, reconsidering this direction, when she heard something. Where her footfalls would have landed, she could just make out a long stretch of what might be wavy gray-red diamond. She backed away slowly, trying to calm the rush of blood through her pulmonary artery, where she might bleed to death in a very few heartbeats were it ever compromised. When she thought she was far enough, she turned to run, only to see a shadow of a figure ahead.
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Waite Clayton's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue