Friday, March 8, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

Title:  The Four Ms. Bradwells
Author: Meg Waite Clayton
Publisher: Ballantine Books/Dreamscape Media
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant. 

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever. 

My Review:

The general concept of this book intrigued me.  Based on the summary above, my interest was piqued by the meshing of chick-litty women's friendships, plus high-level political appointment: definitely spelled "smart women's fiction" to me.  I liked the idea of "humanizing" a situation that you usually would only see the CNN-proofed version of (ie. a Supreme Court appointment confirmation hearing).  All of this seemed to point to an awesome reading choice for moi.

At the beginning, the book lived up to my expectations.  We see Betts at her Senate confirmation as her three friends gather and look on.  We start to get background on their friendship, which is complex and funny, based on a bit of a joke that occurred in their first semester of law school.  Then the "deeply buried skeleton" comes out at the hearing, and Betts (along with her friends) take off out of Washington DC to hide from the press.

At this point, things started to go a bit sour for me.

Why, oh why, if you were possibly involved in a scandal that happened on a tiny little island in the Chesapeake...would you hide out ON THAT EXACT TINY LITTLE ISLAND?  This was the first point of confusion for me.  The first of many.  And I think I know why the author did it...a lot of the novel focused on revisiting the past, reconsidering past mistakes, facing your demons, etc.  So returning to the scene of the "crime" was symbolic.  But I refuse to believe that these four well-educated women, one of which was a Supreme Court nominee, would immediately flee to such an incriminating locale.  That's like someone accusing OJ of murdering Nicole and Ron, and he goes straight to their house to camp out.  MAKES NO SENSE.  And I do expect my book characters to have more sense than OJ.  That's a minimum expectation.

That particular detail highlights my main issue with this book: I feel like the author had all these MESSAGES she wanted to get across.  Things about women's rights, tests of friendship, girl power, etc.  And in her effort to make those messages crystal-clear to the reader, she sacrificed believability in the plot details, forcing her characters to do absolutely inane things that no real-life person would do in such a situation.  Example: skinny dipping.  No woman skinny dips nearly as much as the ladies in this novel do, but obviously their naked swims were meant to symbolize a release of inhibitions, feeling free from other's scrutiny, etc. so they were mentioned incessantly.  And, THE ENDING.  I nearly crashed my car with all the eyerolling I was doing while listening to the last CD.

Adding fuel to the fire, the characters themselves are not likeable--especially Mia, who is fairly central to the story.  Some sympathy is drummed up for her at the end, but I couldn't get behind it.  Plus, as an audiobook, it didn't do a good job keeping my attention.  The same narrator (Karen White) is used for all four women, and there were many points where I would lose track of who was speaking--made for a lot of rewinding and confusion at times.  I imagine this is not as difficult in print.

I am sad about this book, you guys.  I wanted so badly to like it, but I just couldn't.  I think the basic structure and subject of the novel had a lot of promise, but the actions of the characters started to lose me pretty early on.  I wish Clayton had focused less on getting her messages across, and more on creating a well-crafted storyline.

I need to get back on the audiobook horse--what's your favorite audiobook?

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