I promised a review of Meg Waite Clayton’s novels and tonight, having just closed the last page in her book The Wednesday Sisters, seems like the perfect time to do so.
A few weeks ago I wrote a short article on what ‘women’s fiction’ means to me. In a nutshell women’s literary fiction refers to writing by women which focuses on women-centred themes and concerns, not with the intention of excluding men, but neither specifically taking men’s needs and considerations as their primary leit-motif or focus. Hence women’s fiction as a genre will describe the emotional journey of the female protagonist/s. Furthermore, this work will be literary insofar as it will approach the writing through a literary, rather than, say, a romantic lens.
Generally speaking women tend to be the primary readers and buyers of women’s literary fiction. Of course not all women’s fiction falls under the rubric of literary, but this is the particular genre I choose to read and attempt to write, bearing in mind that all categorization is ultimately arbitrary and even, perhaps, personal. So why bother? Well, for me it is a way of clarifying exactly the kind of book I want, no make that need, to write.
Thus the tools required to learn the craft include books which fall into this category, studying how they are written, the language, the rhythm, the poetry of the word-smithery. I practice penning poems as a means towards learning the art of writing prose poetry. Even if my novel never materializes, the journey and the process will have been worth the effort. Reading and writing women’s literary fiction is a romp in the Garden of Eden for Eve re-born, a 1980’s feminist whose life took on a form of its own. Back then my ‘bible’s were all radical feminist treatises, with feminist novels the icing on the cake! In many ways women’s literary fiction is, for me anyway, akin to feminist literature coming of age! But that’s just my take. Not everyone (anyone else?) who writes in this genre would consider themselves feminists.
What I write here captures much of the spirit and essence of Meg Waite Clayton’s novel, The Wednesday Sisters, even down to her wonderfully enlivening descriptions of the women’s movement as it was in the 1970’s. Indeed Meg’s novel could be interpreted as a chronicle of some of the major historical events which occurred in the United States throughout these years. As her novel unfolds we are exposed to a litany of historical occurrences, rooting the character’s lives in past real life events. The author makes us feel as if we are there marching for women’s rights, watching Miss America, albeit ambivalent as only women in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s could be. For Meg’s novel is a nuanced account of mixed emotions, mingling the strong desires and unarticulated dreams of an intimate group of friends with the moral ambiguities of the time. Reading her book we stand beside the Wednesday Sisters and bear witness to the times as they were a‘changing.
Meg Waite Clayton does so much more than simply recall significant events though. She examines the mixed emotions her female protagonists (she has more than one…the author refer to this writing strategy as ‘ensemble’) experience in the face of what was then radical social change. The uncertainties laced with the fears, hand in hand with a bravado born of desiring to do the right thing, what their hearts and consciences demand of them, are minutely described and analysed, so that at every step of the way we are in sympathy with their emotional compasses, which shake and tremble before discovering their point of stillness, of equilibrium. Thus, in her novel, the author offers us glimpse after glimpse of what it felt like to be a woman at a particular stage in history.
Meg’s books could only have been written by a women, but not just any woman. Meg is a woman who is awake and aware, who has been observing and taking notes, journaling and perfecting her craft for years. And what makes The Wednesday Sisters so extra special is that it is a novel about women who write. It is this last which ultimately makes this novel unputdownable. Meg Clayton Waites generates a vision, a dream, which many women who read this tale, will recognize. Some of us may even go on to attempt to make that dream come true!