They could have been my older sisters, my older cousins, my half-a-generation-older friends. They were young married mothers when some of their age group were turning on, tuning in and dropping out — to hippie communes, to Canada, to psychedelic music — and others were devoting their time and energy to civil rights, anti-war and feminist protest. These women’s husbands were doctors, lawyers and technology innovators, and the women were holding down the fort at home with no thought of another choice being available.
A fictional creation of author Meg Waite Clayton, the Wednesday Sisters meet in a local park in Palo Alto, California, first just to watch their children play. Kath is a typical Southern belle, Linda a healthy sports enthusiast, Brett the mystery woman who always wears gloves, Ally a shy woman with more than one difficult secret, and Frankie (the voice of the book) the girl who just wants to belong. They start talking about books and then decide to get together once a week to try their hand at writing. Over the course of the book they each discover their own literary voice or their place in the literary field. With audiences across the country they watch the Miss America pageant each year, their attitudes toward the program changing over time. They witness (and are occasionally on the fringes of) racial and feminist protest activities in their area. The Sisters eventually find out the kinds of things about each other’s lives that make you believe they will never again take anyone at face value.
The historical time of the book is familiar to me. Several weeks into their meetings, when the fifth woman (Ally) joins the group, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy has just been announced. Even several thousand miles away in another part of the world, I knew about that. The next year these fictional women and their families in Palo Alto, California are watching the same Apollo 11 moon landing that I watched with my family (at the time in North Carolina) the summer before I turned fifteen. I didn’t read The Bell Jar, mentioned several times in the book, but I remember reading a Time magazine review of it. (I used to read almost everything in sight, sometimes to my parents’ dismay!)
I wasn’t familiar with the Supreme Court decision referenced in the book that dealt with employers no longer being allowed to refuse to hire women with small children unless they also refused to hire men with small children. Several years later when a federal agency changed their mind about giving me a job because “we don’t hire pregnant ladies,” there was still nothing I knew of to prevent them from making that choice.
Ally’s premature baby was born not too many years before my own firstborn child, also premature. The options available to her child were not yet as advanced as the options available to mine, and the description reminded me all over again how much I owe to the pediatrician who had just finished studying under an expert in Europe before coming back to Texas to set up a neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital where my daughter was born. The options available to women who find a breast lump have also changed — not enough, but significantly. Some things haven’t changed much. I went to school with people whose mothers were given DES and thalidomide only to find out later the damaging side effects outweighed any possible benefit.
Some events I don’t remember — for instance, the Boston Marathon being opened up to women in 1972. On the other hand, I do remember sitting in Miss Maxie Wall’s kitchen on a visit late that summer, watching Olga Korbut (not mentioned in the book) win multiple gold and silver Olympic medals.
It’s true as some other reviewers have said that this is not a complex book and the happy ending may be too easy. But I enjoyed it anyway and will probably read others by the same author. I have enough complicated stuff in my life, I don’t need it in every book I read!