Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: "The Four Ms. Bradwells"

In some ways this is a formulaic chick lit "girlfriends rock (even into middle age)" kind of novel. It's a story about four law school chums who are now in their fifties. One of them is being considered for an appointment to the U. S. Supreme Court. The girlfriends gather to support her. During the confirmation hearing a terrible secret from their past is raised that may torpedo both her appointment and the political career of one of the others. The women then retreat to regroup, rethink and make a plan.

The women spend a weekend hiding from the press on a remote island in the Chesapeake Bay talking, fighting, crying and dredging up all the painful secrets, misunderstandings, grudges and love that they have shared for thirty years. With a degree of honesty they have never previously achieved, they share the secret hopes and fears they never dared to share before, and -- perhaps most importantly of all -- they address the impact their relationships with their own mothers have had on their choices and their relationships with their daughters. (The primary story is about the Girlfriends, but the Mothers and Daughters are present on every page whether they are in the scene or not.) By the end of the weekend the women agree on a plan for moving forward to try to salvage their careers and their friendships.

"Girlfriend" books always touch and inspire me. They scare me a little, too, because they always reveal the well-known secret that nobody, but nobody can cut you like your closest girlfriend. They also are consoling because they make the equally important point that nobody will rally around you in times of trouble like your girlfriends.

The murder-mystery at the bottom of the conflict is complex enough to keep the suspense high. The relationships between the women ring true. The characters are interesting and engaging, although I'd have liked a little more detail about the family backgrounds of Laney and Mia. The ending, however, is a tad over the top.

I liked the feminist aspect of the story and the homage to the history of women in the legal profession subtext. I think it is important for women to remember the people who made it possible for us to have the choices we have today, regardless of our profession.

I read the entire book in one day (because it was due at the library the next day and I really wanted to finish it).  It made me laugh in some sections and it made me squirm in others. Women too often make choices for irrational reasons, often without even being aware of the "real" reasons behind their decisions -- which often boil down to "Mother". Girlfriend relationships are so complicated and so fraught with emotion, a narrative about them absolutely has to make me cry (either out of anger or sadness or happiness -- preferably, all three.)  For me that's a benchmark for a satisfying experience with a chick lit/girlfriend book. This one made me cry. A lot.

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