Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton

I have a wonderful group of friends, of whom I could ask anything. Many of us live in the same neighborhood and we all have children. Our children, with only a few exceptions, are not really friends. Perhaps this is because the kids' ages are so wildly varied. Perhaps it's because we mothers met when the kids were old enough to have friendships of their own independent of us. Perhaps there's another reason altogether, one that I am missing. It interests me when I hear of kids who are friends because their parents are friends, probably because I definitely don't see that in my own life at all. In Meg Waite Clayton's book, The Wednesday Daughters, there is this kind of relationship, at least between three of the adult daughters of the women she wrote about in The Wednesday Sisters. I enjoyed the first book and was curious to see where the second would take me. Unfortunately, it was less engaging than the first.

Hope has enlisted the help of fellow Wednesday Daughters (their mothers were all dear friends of decades long standing), Julie and Anna Page, to help her go to empty out the tiny writing cottage her mother kept in England's Lake District after her mother Ally's unexpected death. Hope wants to understand why her mother was so attracted to the place and what it meant to her, knowing only that her own grandmother, who cut off all relations with Ally when she married an Indian husband, was originally from around there and that Ally herself loved Beatrix Potter and was writing a biography of sorts of Potter when she died.

Because the group is so close, each of the three women is dealing with Ally's death but Julie is also dealing with her twin sister Jamie's death from breast cancer a year prior as well as a failed marriage, Hope is facing the possible breakdown of her marriage over the issue of children and race, and Anna Page is forever unwilling to open herself up to emotional intimacy in a relationship, always choosing awful men for herself and busying herself making the good matches for her friends.  While the three women are obviously close enough to be clearing out Ally's cottage together, by choice, they also have tensions and disapprovals of each other pervading the atmosphere as well. When they first arrive, they are rowed over to the cottage by Robbie, a boatman who tells them of the legends and old scandals in the area and Anna Page immediately tags him as someone for Julie. Then they meet Graham, the local lord, who they originally assume that Ally had been having an affair with but who turns out to have more complicated connections to her than that, being, perhaps, a key to the mystery of why Ally's mother was so horrified by her marriage to Jim. As they tramp around the Lake District countryside together, Hope carrying Ally's ashes in her pocket, each of the three women is looking for a way to heal her own wounded heart.

As a sequel, the reader is expected to dive right into the relationships with these women, remembering the tight friendships of their mothers. The problem is that the daughters weren't a huge part of the first book and it can be hard to remember which daughter belongs to which Wednesday Sister and why that would be significant in forming their personalities. The only Wednesday Sister who makes an appearance here, aside from Ally in memory and in the brief pages of her journal, is Kath, who seems quirkier, more full of southern colloquialisms than ever before, and completely out of place in England. The novel is told both from Hope's first person perspective and from a third person omniscient narration as well, blending the two of them together in a somewhat uneasy mix. Added to that already jumbled narration is the fact of Ally's journals, which seem to be the seed of her unpublished work on Beatrix Potter. These felt unnecessary and odd given that they are presented as journal entries but have animated Potter's ghost, who has conversations with Ally. It is an awkward and distracting construct when simple, unvarnished journal entries would have shown her feelings and experiences just fine. Also, the focus of the novel isn't tight enough, trying to incorporate too many major plot threads at once and then tying them up very neatly in the end. The physical descriptions of the Lake District were lovely and definitely contributed to the healing that needed to occur though. This wasn't a bad book but it just wasn't everything I had hoped either.

Thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book for review.

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