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The Four Ms. Bradwells    by Meg Waite Clayton order for
Four Ms. Bradwells
by Meg Waite Clayton
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton (author of The Wednesday Sisters) is an engrossing tale of a lifetime friendship between women that begins at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979 and continues through the normal stresses of life, career and parenting - and in spite of a shared, deeply buried skeleton in a Cook Island closet. Their story is told in the alternating voices of four friends who 'never did laugh at each other's dreams.'

The four were named the Ms. Bradwells by a law school professor after a Mrs. Myra Bradwell who was denied the right to practice law in 1873 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley. Now Betts (the Funny One, and a widow) faces a Senate hearing in Washington over her own Supreme Court nomination - her confirmation is expected to be a slam dunk. There to support her are Mia (the Savant, who has just lost her job as a journalist), Ginger (the Rebel, who loves poetry but is at loose ends in her life) and Laney (the Good Girl, who is also running for political office despite feeling 'as white as a black woman can be.')

Then comes a question that all four had secretly dreaded: 'I'd like to ask you what you know about a death that occurred in the spring of 1982, at a home in Maryland where I believe you were a guest?' Though Betts claims to have nothing to add to the public record, the media mob her and the four take refuge at Ginger's family home, Chawterley, on Chesapeake Bay's Cook Island ... where it all began. As the story moves smoothly between past and present, readers - and the four friends - gradually get deeper insights into what happened in 1982, why it was handled as it was, and the role that Ginger's formidable and fiercely feminist mother Faith Cook Conrad might have played in events.

As the foursome work out how they feel and what they should do next, there is tension and conflict, with old wounds re-opened and new ones (in particular the recent death of Ginger's mother Faith) exposed. But Betts, Mia, Ginger and Laney do find redemption and recover from the damage they (especially Ginger and Laney) incurred through past action and inaction. How do they handle the press? It's the grand finale and the best part of the story, which I'll leave you to discover for yourself. I highly recommend The Four Ms. Bradwells to you as an exceptional read.

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