The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel by Meg Waite ClaytonThe Wednesday Sisters: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton

The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel

byMeg Waite Clayton

Paperback | May 5, 2009

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Friendship, loyalty, and love lie at the heart of Meg Waite Clayton’s beautifully written, poignant, and sweeping novel of five women who, over the course of four decades, come to redefine what it means to be family.

For thirty-five years, Frankie, Linda, Kath, Brett, and Ally have met every Wednesday at the park near their homes in Palo Alto, California. Defined when they first meet by what their husbands do, the young homemakers and mothers are far removed from the Summer of Love that has enveloped most of the Bay Area in 1967. These “Wednesday Sisters” seem to have little in common: Frankie is a timid transplant from Chicago, brutally blunt Linda is a remarkable athlete, Kath is a Kentucky debutante, quiet Ally has a secret, and quirky, ultra-intelligent Brett wears little white gloves with her miniskirts. But they are bonded by a shared love of both literature—Fitzgerald, Eliot, Austen, du Maurier, Plath, and Dickens–and the Miss America Pageant, which they watch together every year.

As the years roll on and their children grow, the quintet forms a writers circle to express their hopes and dreams through poems, stories, and, eventually, books. Along the way, they experience history in the making: Vietnam, the race for the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they have ever thought about themselves, while at the same time supporting one another through changes in their personal lives brought on by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.

Humorous and moving, The Wednesday Sisters is a literary feast for book lovers that earns a place among those popular works that honor the joyful, mysterious, unbreakable bonds between friends.

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Meg Waite Clayton’s The Wednesday Daughters.

Praise for The Wednesday Sisters

“This generous and inventive book is a delight to read, an evocation of the power of friendship to sustain, encourage, and embolden us. Join the sisterhood!”—Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

“I read The Wednesday Sisters in one delicious gulp. With a smart, entrancing voice, Meg Waite Clayton sweeps us into the world of the tumultuous 1960’s and beyond, and gives us the gift of five young women coming into their own as friends, mothers, wives and writers. . . . Up until the last page, I found myself fervently rooting for each of them as if they were my friends too.”—Lalita Tademy, author of Red Riverand Cane River
Meg Waite Clayton is the author of The Language of Light, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. Her stories and essays have appeared in Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, and literary magazines. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She lives ...
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Title:The Wednesday Sisters: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5 × 2 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5 × 2 inPublished:May 5, 2009Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345502833

ISBN - 13:9780345502834

Reviews

Read from the Book

The Wednesday Sisters look like the kind of women who might meet at those fancy coffee shops on University—we do look that way—but we’re not one bit fancy, and we’re not sisters, either. We don’t even meet on Wednesdays, although we did at the beginning. We met at the swings at Pardee Park on Wednesday mornings when our children were young. It’s been thirty-five years, though—more than thirty-five!—since we switched from Wednesdays at ten to Sundays at dawn. Sunrise, whatever time the light first crests the horizon that time of year. It suits us, to leave our meeting time up to the tilt of the earth, the track of the world around the sun.That’s us, there in the photograph. Yes, that’s me—in one of my chubbier phases, though I suppose one of these days I’ll have to face up to the fact that it’s the thinner me that’s the “phase,” not the chubbier one. And going left to right, that’s Linda (her hair loose and combed, but then she brought the camera, she was the only one who knew we’d be taking a photograph). Next to her is Ally, pale as ever, and then Kath. And the one in the white gloves in front—the one in the coffin—that’s Brett.•••Brett’s gloves—that’s what brought us together all those years ago. I had Maggie and Davy with me in the park that first morning, a park full to bursting with children running around together as if any new kid could join them just by saying hello, with clusters of mothers who might—just might—be joined with a simple hello as well. It wasn’t my park yet, just a park in a neighborhood where Danny and I might live if we moved to the Bay Area, a neighborhood with tree-lined streets and neat little yards and sidewalks and leaves turning colors just like at home in Chicago, crumples of red and gold and pale brown skittering around at the curbs. I was sitting on a bench, Davy in my lap and a book in my hand, keeping one eye on Maggie on the slide while surreptitiously watching the other mothers when this woman—Brett, though I didn’t know that then—sat down on a bench across the playground from me, wearing white gloves. No, we are not of the white-glove generation, not really. Yes, I did wear them to Mass when I was a girl, along with a silly doily on my head, but this was 1967—we’re talking miniskirts and tie-dyed shirts and platform shoes. Or maybe not tie-dye and platforms yet—maybe those came later, just before Izod shirts with the collars up—but miniskirts. At any rate, it was definitely not a white-glove time, much less in the park on a Wednesday morning.What in the world? I thought. Does this girl think she’s Jackie Kennedy? (Thinking “girl,” yes, but back then it had no attitude in it, no “gi-rl.”) And I was wondering if she might go with the ramshackle house beyond the playground—a sagging white clapboard mansion that had been something in its day, you could see that, with its grandly columned entrance, its still magnificent palm tree, its long, flat spread of lawn—when a mother just settling at the far end of my bench said, “She wears them all the time.”Those were Linda’s very first words to me: “She wears them all the time.”I don’t as a rule gossip about people I’ve never met with other people I’ve never met, even women like Linda, who, just from the look of her, seemed she’d be nice to know. She was blond and fit and . . . well, just Linda, even then wearing a red Stanford baseball cap, big white letters across the front and the longest, thickest blond braid sticking out the back—when girls didn’t wear baseball caps either, or concern themselves with being fit rather than just plain thin.“You were staring,” Linda said. That’s Linda for you. She’s nothing if not frank.“Oh,” I said, still stuck on that baseball cap of hers, thinking even Gidget never wore a baseball cap, not the Sandra Dee movie version or the Sally Field TV one.“I don’t mean to criticize,” she said. “Everyone does.”“Criticize?”“Stare at her.” Linda shifted slightly, and I saw then that she was pregnant, though just barely. “You’re new to the neighborhood?” she asked.“No, we . . .” I adjusted my cat’s-eye glasses, a nervous habit my mom had forever tried to break me of. “My husband and I might be moving here after he finishes school. He has a job offer, and we . . . They showed us that little house there.” I indicated the house just across Center Drive from the old mansion. “The split-level with the pink shutters?”“Oh!” Linda said. “I thought it just sold, like, yesterday. I didn’t know you’d moved in!”“It’s not sold yet. And we haven’t. We won’t move here until the spring.”“Oh.” She looked a bit confused. “Well, you are going to paint the shutters, aren’t you?”As I said, Linda is nothing if not frank.That was the first Wednesday. September 6, 1967.When I tell people that—that I first came to the Bay Area at the end of that summer, that that’s when the Wednesday Sisters first met—they inevitably get this look in their eyes that says bell-bottoms and flower power, war protests and race riots, LSD. Even to me, it seems a little improbable in retrospect that I never saw a joint back then, never flashed anyone a peace sign. But I had a three-year-old daughter and a baby son already. I had a husband who’d passed the draft age, who would have a Ph.D. and a full-time job within months. I’d already settled into the life I’d been raised to settle into: dependable daughter, good wife, attentive mother. All the Wednesday Sisters had. We spent the Summer of Love changing diapers, going to the grocery store, baking tuna casseroles and knitting sweater vests (yes, sweater vests), and watching Walter Cronkite from the safety of our family rooms. I watched the local news, too, though that was more about following the Cubs; they’d just lost to the Dodgers, ending a three-game winning streak—not much, three games, but then they are the Cubs and were even that year, despite Fergie Jenkins throwing 236 strikeouts and Ron Santo hitting 31 out of the park.Anyway, I was sitting there watching Maggie on the slide, about to call to her to clear away from the bottom when she did it on her own, and I was just a bit intimidated by this blonde I didn’t know yet was Linda, and that occurred to me, that I didn’t know her name. “I’m Frankie O’Mara,” I said, forgetting that I’d decided to be Mary, or at least Mary Frances or Frances or Fran, in this new life. I tried to back up and say “Mary Frances O’Mara”—it was the way I liked to imagine my name on the cover of a novel someday, not that I would have admitted to dreams beyond marriage and motherhood back then. But Linda was already all over Frankie.“Frankie? A man’s name—and you all curvy and feminine. I wish I had curves like you do. I’m pretty much just straight up and down.”I’d have traded my “curves” of unlost baby gain for what was under her double-knit slacks and striped turtleneck in a second, or I thought I would then. She looked like that girl in the Clairol ads—“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”—except she was more “If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em” somehow. She didn’t wear a speck of makeup, either, not even lipstick.“What are you reading, Frankie?” she asked.(In fairness, I should explain here that Linda remembers that first morning differently. She swears her first words were “What’s that you’re reading?” and it was only when I didn’t answer—too busy staring at Brett to hear her, she says—that she said, “She wears them all the time.” She swears what brought us together was the book in my hand. That’s how she and Kath met, too; they got to talking about In Cold Blood at a party while everyone was still slogging through the usual blather about the lovely Palo Alto weather and how lucky they were that their husbands were doing their residencies here.)I held up the cover of my book—Agatha Christie’s latest Poirot novel, The Third Girl—for Linda to see. She blinked blond lashes over eyes that had a little of every color in them, like the blue and green and yellow of broken glass all mixed together in the recycling bin.“A mystery?” she said. “Oh.”She preferred “more serious fiction,” she said—not unkindly, but still I was left with the impression that she ranked my mysteries right down there with comic books. I was left shifting uncomfortably in my pleated skirt and sweater set, wondering how I’d ever manage in a place where even the books I read were all wrong. I couldn’t imagine, then, leaving my friends back home, the girls who’d shared sleepless slumber-party nights and double dates with me, who still wore my clothes and lipstick and blush. Though it had never been quite the same after we’d all married. My Danny had seemed so . . . not awkward, exactly, but uncomfortable with my friends. And they weren’t any easier with him. “He’s such a brain,” Theresa had said just a few weeks before, and I’d said, “He is, isn’t he?” with a spanking big grin on my face, I’m sure, and it was only the doubt in Theresa’s eyes that told me she hadn’t meant it as praise. The conversation had left me feeling fat and desolate and drowning in filthy diapers, and when Danny came home from class that same evening talking about a job in California, I said, “California? I’ve always wanted to see California,” at once imagining dinner parties with Danny’s co-workers and their wives and weekend picnics at the beach and a whole new set of friends who would never imagine that Danny was one thing and I was another, even if we were.Another gal pushed a baby buggy up to our bench just then, a big-haired, big-chinned brunette who had already pulled a book from her bag and was handing it to Linda, saying she’d finished it at two that morning. “No love story, but I liked it anyway. Thank,” she said, her y’s clipped, her i’s lingering on into forever. Mississippi, I thought, though that was probably because of the book: To Kill a Mockingbird.Linda, polite as anything, was introducing us, saying, “Kath, this is Frankie . . .” Frowning then, clearly drawing a blank on my last name.“Mary Frances O’Mara,” I said, remembering this time: Mary Frances or Frances or Fran.“Frankie is moving into that cute little house with the awful pink shutters,” Linda said.“Linda,” Kath said.“In the spring, right?” Linda said.“Maybe not that house,” I said.“Oh, right. She hasn’t bought it yet. But when she does, she’s going to paint the shutters.”“Lin-da!” Kath blinked heavily darkened lashes straight at her friend’s lack of manners. Then to me, “You can see why she doesn’t have a friend in this whole wide world except me, bless her cold, black heart.”Kath said how pleased she was meet to me, her head bobbing and her shoulders bobbing along with it, some sort of Southern-girl upper-body dance that said more loudly than she could have imagined that she was an agreeable person, that she just wanted to be liked. I said, “Me, too,” nodding as well, but careful to keep my shoulders straight and square and still; probably I’d done a Midwestern version of that head bob all my life.Kath began to unpack her baby from the stroller, placing a clean white diaper over the shoulder of her spotless blouse first, the careful pink of her perfect nails—the same pink as her lipstick—lingering on baby hair as neatly combed as her own, which was poufy at the top and flipping up at the ends the way it does only if you set it, with a big fat braid wrapped above her bangs like a headband. Not a real braid like Linda’s, but a fake one exactly the color of her hair. Still, it was easy to imagine that she slept propped up on pillows so her hair in big rollers would dry through, and that when it rained her hair might revert to disaster like mine did, even when it didn’t get wet. She wasn’t like my girlfriends back home, exactly, but she was more like them than Linda was. Not Twiggy thin. Not Doris Day blond.Although Linda had lent Kath To Kill a Mockingbird. There was that.“How old?” I asked Kath, glancing down at my own three-month-old Davy.“This punkin?” Kath said, admiring her little Lacy. “She’s three months. My Lee-Lee—Madison Leland Montgomery the Fifth, he is really—he’s three and a half. And Anna Page—”A young girl with Kath’s same chin, her same chestnut hair left alone to fall in its own random waves under a straw hat with a black grosgrain band, tore off across the park, the hat flying back off her head, tumbling into the sand behind her. She tripped and slid in the sand herself, and her dress (this smocked thing with white lace at the cuffs and neck) . . . well, you could see she was not a girl who kept her dresses clean. But she picked herself up without so much as a pout and continued on to the jungle gym, where she climbed to the top cross bar and hung upside down, her sandy dress falling over her face.“I swear, she’ll be drinking bourbon straight out of the bottle before she’s eighteen,” Kath said.Linda asked Kath who was coming to her Miss America party that Saturday night, then, and they started talking together about the other doctors’ wives they’d met—or the residents’ wives, to be precise. Kath had grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, and Linda in Connecticut. They’d both just moved to Palo Alto. They didn’t know any more people than I did, really. But they’d spent every Miss America Saturday they could remember gathering with their girlfriends to watch the pageant, like I had, all of us imagining taking that victory walk ourselves even if we were the homeliest things in town. Or Kath had always watched with her girlfriends, anyway, and Linda left the impression she had, too. She didn’t say anything that first afternoon about how lonely her childhood had been.

Bookclub Guide

1. What do you think draws the women together in the opening scenes of The Wednesday Sisters? Is it, as Linda suggests, a shared love of books, or is it a shared fascination with Brett’s white gloves, or is it both or something else?2. Twice in the novel, Linda attempts to ask about Brett’s gloves, but she is cut off by one of the other Sisters. Why are they reluctant to cross that line? What do you think the gloves symbolize? Do you think young women meeting Brett today would be as gentle about her gloves? Are there generational differences in the ways women relate? 3. Ally enters the group in part based on an unspoken assumption that Carrie is her daughter, when the child is in fact her niece. Why do you think Frankie keeps this secret rather than sharing it with the others? Do you think Ally’s life would be different today, given the existence of fertility treatments and support groups? 4. Why does Kath go so far in trying to win Lee back? Did this surprise you? Do you think she would have acted differently if the success of her marriage weren’t so important to her parents? If divorce had been as prevalent then as it is now? If she had been able to provide for herself financially? Would you, like Kath’s friends, be reluctant to counsel her to leave her husband? Or can you imagine giving her different advice? 5. Linda’s breast cancer and Ally’s fertility issues cause each to doubt her own femininity, and leave their friends at a loss as to how to help them. Have you or a friend ever been through a similar crisis? What has helped you hold on to your sense of self through tough times? How have your friendships affected this experience? 6. Why do you think Frankie finds it so difficult to tell Danny she’s writing a book, when she has no trouble at all confiding this fact to her husband’s boss? Why are we sometimes reluctant to admit we have dreams? 7. The old abandoned mansion–“a Miss Havisham house,” as Frankie’s husband, Danny, calls it, after the moldering mansion in Dickens’s Great Expectations–is a haunting presence through most of the novel. What does this house seem to symbolize? Does it mean something different to each of the Sisters? What does its destruction mean? 8. Published books are mentioned throughout the novel–from The Great Gatsby to The Bell Jar to To Kill a Mockingbird. What role do these titles play in The Wednesday Sisters? Why do you think each of the Sisters chooses the “model book” she does? What model book might you choose yourself? 9. The writing group the Sisters form in The Wednesday Sisters helps its members grow in self-awareness and self-confidence. Have you been a part of a group–perhaps even a reading or writing group–that has had a similar effect on you? What do you think of the author’s message that writing doesn’t have to culminate in a book deal; that it can feed the soul of anyone who works hard at it; that with hard work, it is possible to get better; and that writing can help one make sense of one’s life? 10. In one memorable scene, the Wednesday Sisters gather in a funeral parlor and imagine what they can accomplish in their lives that will not perish with their deaths. Did this make you think about writing in a new light? What about motherhood? 11. The women’s movement provides an evolving backdrop to the lives of the women in The Wednesday Sisters. How did you relate the experiences of the Wednesday Sisters to events in your own life or in the lives of women you know who lived at that time?12. The Wednesday Sisters make a tradition of watching the Miss America Pageant every year. How do their reactions to the pageant change over time, and why? How does the pageant itself change? 13. If the Miss America Pageant is one recurring motif in the novel, the space program is another. What similarities and differences do you see in the way the author uses these two iconic slices of Americana? 14. Brett’s novel, The Mrs. Americas, posits a future in which a spaceship crewed by women and carrying a cargo of frozen sperm takes off on a mission to propagate the human race beyond the confines of our solar system. Why do you think Clayton chose to have Brett write this particular novel? 15. In addition to exploring the empowerment of women and the prevalence of sexism, The Wednesday Sisters addresses other social issues. In what ways are race and class raised in the novel? What did you think of the Sisters’ reactions to the fact that Ally’s husband, Jim, was from India? 16. Why do you think the author chose to set the climax of her novel on the set of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? How does this scene compare to the Miss America Pageants described in the novel? 17. Throughout the novel, the Wednesday Sisters’ friendships are complex, constantly evolving, and occasionally downright messy. Yet even as their bonds are tested, the group endures and grows stronger. What do you think keeps their friendships growing stronger rather than breaking apart? 18. In an interview, author Meg Waite Clayton once said, “If an author makes me weep, I am theirs–though why so many of us like books that make us cry puzzles me to no end.” Do you share this sentiment? Why do you think readers respond to novels that make them cry? 

Editorial Reviews

"This generous and inventive book is a delight to read, an evocation of the power of friendship to sustain, encourage, and embolden us. Join the sisterhood!" —Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club"I read The Wednesday Sisters in one delicious gulp. With a smart, entrancing voice, Meg Waite Clayton sweeps us into the world of the tumultuous 1960’s and beyond, and gives us the gift of five young women coming into their own as friends, mothers, wives and writers. The Wednesday Sisters takes their writing group as its core, and up until the last page, I found myself fervently rooting for each of them as if they were my friends too.” — Lalita Tademy, author of Red River and Cane River“Long before there were book clubs and play dates, there were the Wednesday Sisters–a group of women whose shared love of literature transports them above the pains and pitfalls of ordinary life. While these women may seem like typical suburban housewives, each character has an intriguing secret and a rich interior life that drew me into the story and held me there. This remarkable group of women demonstrates that no matter what period of history in which we live, no matter what race, creed or class we are, no matter what pains we endure, our one unifying salvation can be books. And this book reminded me of why I love to read."— Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief and Happiness Sold SeparatelyI simply could not put down The Wednesday Sisters.  I gave my heart to Meg Clayton's vivid characters, and I read their intertwined stories breathlessly.  Move over, Ya-ya sisters!—Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Forgive Me and How to be Lost"Meg Waite Clayton gives us a group of spunky women–mostly young, married mothers–who make the unlikely decision in 1967 to form a writers’ group. Their diverse journeys over the next years in their writing and in their lives add up to a compelling and deeply moving testament to the power of women’s friendships. I simply couldn’t put The Wednesday Sisters down until I’d turned the last page." —Ellen Baker, author of Keeping the House"Richly intelligent, deeply felt and incandescently original, Clayton's book is a rhapsodic story of female friendship, set against wildly changing times and mores. Not only is the book heartbreaking, funny, and undeniably smart, but truly, this is the kind of book you don't just want to pass on to all your friends. You have to."—Caroline Leavitt, author of Girls in Trouble and Coming Back to Me