Reading the current events that author Meg Waite Clayton weaves into her novel, "The Wednesday Sisters" was like a trip down memory lane for me. The long-lasting friendships of the five women characters started in the 1960s, when I was in high school and college, just a few years younger than Clayton's characters. Their shared experiences of events such as Robert Kennedy's assassination and the moon landing took me back to my youth.
The five women met by chance in Palo Alto, California, in a public park where they took their children to play. As I read their first neighborly conversations that turned into discussions of literature, I anticipated the group would become a book club, but to my surprise, especially for the times, they took it to the next level and became a writers' club. They met once a week, originally on Wednesdays, discussing their children and husbands before sharing what each was writing to be critiqued by the other women.
Clayton relays each woman's life challenges, including marrying against her parents' wishes, struggling to be the perfect mother/housewife, difficulty conceiving a child, serious illnesses, racial prejudice, individual eccentricities, a philandering spouse, and delayed gratification, especially in the form of supporting the husband's career to put family first. They mostly adhered to the 1960s norm that the man was the provider and the woman took care of the children at home.
The women start a tradition of watching the Kentucky Derby and the Miss America Pageant every year. The changing role of women and race is reflected in these events as the women note the first female jockey in 1970 and the first nonwhite contestant (Miss Iowa) in 1971.
Even as parts of their lives seem to be falling apart, their writing skills grow, perhaps informed by life's hardships. As much as I enjoyed this book, I did find it highly unlikely that five women who randomly met would turn out to be such talented and dedicated writers. Perhaps even more improbable was that the husbands weren't transferred out of the area, allowing the women to remain so involved in each others' lives. But if Clayton hadn't utilized those stretches of the imagination, we readers would have missed out on all the fun. That the book culminates with the Wednesday Sisters appearing on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson had particular appeal to me, right down to Ed McMahon's iconic "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny," to Carson's imaginary golf swing into the next commercial break. Nostalgia and the transformative power of friendships made this book a delight.