Meg Waite Clayton’s The Four Ms. Bradwells


The Four Ms. Bradwells: A Novel | Jorie’s Reads Store @ Amazon

Clayton, M. W. (2011). The four Ms. Bradwells: A novel. New York: Ballantine Books. 9780345517081

Reasons for Reading: As I browsed the Overdrive Digital Media Collection for eAudio, I rediscovered the cover bearing a young woman wearing pearls. Drawn by the cover and the description, I downloaded it to my iPhone. A little ways into listening, I decided I wanted to read the book in the old-fashioned format from HCPL.

Summary: Fifty-something best friends Mia (the Savant), Laney (the Good Girl), Betts (the funny one), and Ginger (the rebel) gather in Washington, DC over a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the highest court in the land. Christened “the Ms. Bradwells” in their very first class at Michigan Law in ’79, these four friends have been through it all together – marriage/divorce, birth/death, job promotion/termination.

When Betts seemed all but sworn in as the newest Supreme Court justice, a nasty skeleton peeks out of the closet. This is about that fateful spring break to the summer house on the Chesapeake in ’82. This buried secret rises  to the surface to the point that the Ms. Bradwells can no longer ignore it. Yet, as good friends do, they confront it together.

What I Liked :  I liked that these different, intelligent women remained loyal and true to their friendship. The mystery was compelling and I liked the roles not only played by the Ms. Bradwells but by their mothers. The scenes which took place in Ann Arbor were crystal-clear to me. Then, there was the sense of their daughters carrying on the torch of the Ms. Bradwells.

What I Disliked: One reason I gave up on the audio in favor of the print was because of the narrator. Yes, I realize Laney was from Alabama but did she really have to have her parts read in such an affected accent. Also, the narrator rendered Mia rather whiny. When I switched to the print, I struggled differentiating between the four voices. I was further flummoxed by back-to-back sections narrated by the same character. Another thing which bothered me was that Laney’s mother became a footnote rather than a catalyst of the action. I wanted to know more about her! Before I forget, the pearls described in the novel looked nothing like those on the cover.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: fun.: We Are Young ft. Janelle Monáe [OFFICIAL VIDEO] – YouTube

Setting:  Ann Arbor Michigan, Washington DC, Cook Island

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Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides | LibraryThing

Eugenides, J. (2011). The marriage plot. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 9780374203054

Reasons for Reading : Yippee!!! Jeffrey Eugenides wrote another book. When I saw The Marriage Plot on the bestseller’s list, I added my name to the waiting list for a copy from HCPL

Summary: Starting the morning of Class of 1982’s graduation from Brown University, Madeleine Hanna faces the cold, hard reality of her breakup with Darwinist biologist Leonard Bankhead and very little promise of grad school in the near future. Her take on the marriage plot and Jane Austen’s novels hasn’t exactly wowed Yale Grad School. More immediately, she must deal with her parents. As the Hannas treat Madeleine to breakfast,  Mitchell Grammaticus, a student of Christian mysticism, who believes Madeleine is his soul mate. As Madeleine and Leonard make up and head out to a lab on Cape Cod, Mitchell takes a world tour, aiming to forget Madeleine.

What I Liked : Author Jeffrey Eugenides describes everything so well. I could see these dysfunctional characters. While I am a generation behind them, I still recognized the confusion of life beyond graduaton. Characters such as Madeleine and Mitchell were quite familiar because all three of us over-analyze practically everything.

The ending, which I will not reveal, was to my liking as well.

What I Disliked : One of my friends who read the book before I did warned me about some extra descriptive passages within the book. Going in with my eyes open, I found this book to have high cringe factor.

Also, I wished for more breaks – such as chapters. The Marriage Plot definitely is broken down into parts. However, these sections were, well, stealthy. With these Ivy League alum, much intertextuality can be found with the covers. That’s cool, especially the mention of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline. While this techniques offers context, it also made the book with the long sections seem infinitely longer. I’m not even going to touch the semiotics within, either.

I wanted to throttle, above all other characters, Leonard and Madeleine’s sister, Alwyn. Amongst a strange and disillusioned and delusional cast, these two deserved the padded cells and straight jackets the most.

Lastly, I liked both The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex better. Eugenides’ previous novels offered, above all else, unique narrators. The former spoke in the form of a group of men reflecting upon something from their adolescence while the latter had the incomparably omniscient Cal Stephanides. The Marriage Plot had ordinary third person omniscient points of view.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime” – YouTube

Setting : Providence, Rhode Island; Detroit, New York City, New Jersey; Portland, Oregan; Cape Cod, Boston, Provincetown, India, France, Ireland, Greece

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Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader


* A 1001 Books Book

Schlink, B. (1998). The reader. New York: Vintage Books. 9780679781301

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink | WorldCat

I spotted a copy of this slim book on the Friends of Freeman Library bookshelf. Moving quickly, I managed to buy it. Despite what I previously heard about the heavy topics, I rapidly finished this book.

Divided into three parts and told in the first person narrative form, Part I begins in West Germany in 1958 when fifteen year old Michael Berg becomes gravely ill on his way home from school. Thirty-six year old tram conductor Miss Schmitz sees him and plays the Good Samaritan by hosing down his shoes and guiding him down the road. Michael finds his way home, where he convalesces from hepatitis. His father, a philosophy professor, and his mother keep him from leaving home. When he’s well again, Mrs. Berg sends Michael with a bouquet to Miss Schmitz’s door to show his appreciation, discovering he’s drawn to her. Miss Schmitz catches him watching her dress and Michael runs from her place. However, Michael returns to Miss Schmitz’s apartment, helps her with lugging coal, and becomes covered with coal dust. Miss Schmitz insists Michael bathe and when he does, Miss Schmitz seduces him. A love affair ensues as Michael settles into a routine of visiting her apartment – bathing, having sex, and reading. Michael reads aloud to Miss Schmitz, who in turn, reveals her first name to be Hanna. So, Michael reads classics such as The Odyssey and War and Peace to his lover. During their affair, they don’t talk much about their lives and Hanna becomes morose and abusive at times. After a few months of this, Hanna disappears. Michael develops into a sullen heel himself.

In Part II, as a law student in 1965, Michael and his classmates observe a war crimes trial. Former female Schutzstaffel (SS) guards are on trial for the deaths of 300 Jewish prisoners. One of these guards just happens to be Hanna, Michael’s former lover. Even more perplexing is the fact that Hanna, unlike the other women on trial, refuses to defend what she did as an SS guard. Then, Michael understands that Hanna is hiding an even darker secret. Michael faces the dilemma of letting Hanna “hang herself” for the crime or to reveal what would set her free.

Part III holds the conclusion, taking place in the 1990s. Herein, Michael comes to terms with his relationship with Hanna and choices they’ve made. Without spoiling the book, all I’ll say is that he seeks absolution.

What an austere little book! The sparse prose and clipped tone of the work seemed in perfect accord with the Michael Berg’s thoughts. Also, The Reader delves into the psyche of a rich inner world and thought life – read cerebral. Another element worth noting, Michael’s rather miserly when it comes to labeling people. For example, he never offer names for his parents nor his siblings. Then, he doesn’t name the survivors who bring about Hanna’s trial. Simply, Michael bestows names upon few.

Schlink portrays the intimacy of the two German generations – the Nazi participants (willing/unwilling) and the post-War youth who desire to rectify their fore bearers’ mistakes. He shows precisely the grayness that contemporary analysts find polarizing. No matter how much Michael’s generation wants to wipe the slate clean, none of us should forget. Michael even recognizes how his own father, a philosopher who focuses on Kant and Hegel, inadvertently supported the Nazi cause by writing hiker’s guides. They are inseparable.

Another remarkable theme is ignorance versus knowledge. Enlightenment leads not just to better ways to make a living for oneself, it also opens the path to better decisions.

Then, there’s the intertextuality – the complex relationship between a text and other texts taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text (Merriam Webster 2011). Michael’s literary selection came from Enlightenment Era.

Lastly, there’s the prevailing theme of humanity. Part III sees to a purposefulness in Michael that Part II seems to lack. Here, the titular Reader becomes enlightened and compassionate.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Nicole Atkins – Together We Are Both Alone – Live Troubadour

Places : Germany, Poland, The United States

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