Mia, Lainey, Betts, and Ginger met and became best friends at law school in the late 70s at the high point of the women’s liberation movement. They earned their nicknames as the Ms. Bradwells in law school after discussing the 1873 Supreme Court case of Myra Bradwell who was denied the right to practice law, soley because she was a woman.
From the start four women had quite the strong relationship:
“ …one of the things we Ms. Bradwells had in common pretty much from the start: we may laugh at ourselves or at our own chances, but even when we didn’t know each other very well yet–when we might have mistaken light tones for lack of seriousness–we never did laugh at each other’s dreams.” (p. 33)
These feelings, this attitude, lasted long after law school and into their adult years.
The women are now in their fifties and Betts is going through a trying Senate confirmation hearing to confirm her Supreme Court appointment. Ginger is now a wealthy poet, Mia is a journalist who has recently lost her job and Laney is running for political office. They all come together to support Betts during the hearings.
During the questioning, Betts is asked about an incident that took place at a summer home on Cook Island decades earlier, an incident that forever changed the lives of these four women. They are forced to confront a past long hidden, full of lies, jealousy, guilt, and resentment. Decades later, even the women themselves don’t know what really transpired that fateful summer evening.
The Four Ms. Bradwells is told in chapters alternating between the four women, their stories told in first person narrative. At first, these alternating viewpoints are a bit confusing and I found myself referring to the front of the chapter to learn which character was speaking, but the author differentiates the language and style of each woman so that its quite easily apparent which character is speaking.
The alternating first person point of view allows the reader to get inside the heads of each of the women, to experience their pain and sorrow. I truly felt as if I knew each of the characters, as though they were sitting in front of me, talking like old friends. At several points in the book, I quite literally had to put the book down and take a breather, the emotions so real and vivid that I experienced them myself.
I’ve been a fan of Meg Waite Clayton’s since reading The Wednesday Sisters. Meg has the uncanny ability to realistically and accurately portray the relationships of women, including friendship, motherhood, and marriage. Unlike The Wednesday Sisters, The Four Ms. Bradwells also has the element of mystery woven into the storyline. Admittedly, when I learned this was the case I was quite skeptical but the author’s skilled writing didn’t fail to prove my “instincts” to be false.
Additionally, this book reflects on achieving not what one is expected to achieve, but one’s own personal dreams:
“It’s the weight of the dreams, the feeling you’re meant to do what your mamma and daddy couldn’t do, that the path you choose will complete their lives, or not.” (p. 57)
Without giving away too much, other reviewers have found the ending scene to be too unrealistic, not typical of the actions of these four women. These “scene” is foreshadowed earlier on in the book, so I found it to be completely plausible and characteristic of Mia, Lainey, Betts, and Ginger.
The Four Ms. Bradwells is a wonderfully written story of four extremely intelligent women who, despite it being decades after the feminist movement, continue to have to work harder to prove themselves not only as women, but strong individuals. Highly recommended.
Stay tuned! Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending a reading and signing by the author. I have written a post about this wonderful experience which really allowed the audience to see inside the characters of The Four Ms. Bradwells.