It seems like the last few books I've read have centered around the power for friendship as opposed to that of romantic love. Certainly, The Space Between Us, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Snowflower and the Secret Fan, have all focused on the relationships between women as they navigate their way through fairly hostile male-dominated societies. Even These Granite Islands and Love Walked In are far more about the dynamics between the female characters than they are about the love affairs out the outskirts of the plot lines.
So I guess I'm not surprised that I was drawn to both Belong To Me, by Marisa de los Santos and Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Waite Clayton. Each follows the lives and interactions of a main character and those closest to her---while each main character is married and has a homelife with it's own challenges, the writers in each case seem more drawn to the relationships her main character forges with the women around her.
Belong To Me is the continuation of Santos' Love Walked In. This time, Cornelia Brown has left the big city to make a home in the suburbs with her husband. I could truly relate to Cornelia's reluctance to leave the energy and diversity of her urban Philadelphia for the quiet, seemingly fondant-icing perfection of the 'burbs. I've always struggled with those separate parts of my pscyhe---the thrill and the feeling of being a part of something huge and vital that comes from living in a bustling urban environment versus the security, comfort and sense of community that comes from living in a suburb where neighbors stop to chat on the sidewalks and you can let your kids play in the backyard because...well, you actually have a backyard.
Cornelia is faced with restocking her supply of friends once she makes her way into the new neighborhood and finds that what lies behind the perfectly manicured lawns of her neighbors is not quite as sweet and charming as she had initially thought.
Piper, Elizabeth and Lake are the women of Cornelia's neighborhood--one, a total uptight snoot of a woman (think Bree Van de Camp from Desperate Housewives, but with a bit more spit and vinegar), one dying of cancer and the other an enigma who has a secret that, while Cornelia doesn't know it, threatens her happiness.
I really enjoyed this book. Cornelia is so likeable as a main character and Santos is marvelous at weaving separate story lines together to make a cohesive experience that her books tend to play like a movie in my mind, much more so than many of the other books I've read.
I did think the twist in this book was actually pretty superfluous, given that it turned the focus away from Cornelia and the women back to the relationship between her and her husband. I found that I wasn't all that interested in him. I wanted to read more about the friends---in particular Piper who, ironically enough, initially made my skin crawl.
Similarly, The Wednesday Sisters are all married woman with families of some form of their own. But I really didn't care so much about the families any farther than that sometimes their actions impacted the relationships of the women who comprised the writing group. It was the closeness and emotional intimacy between the women, and not what their kids are like or what their husband do (although this is all they really think to talk about initially), that made this book so powerful to me.
Meeting by chance at a local park in the late 1960's, these young mothers find a common connection through their writing. They establish a Wednesday morning "meeting" at the park while their kids play, to write and share their writing with one another. It is through their writing (sometimes stories, drafts of novels, just journal entries) that these five women come to know each other's greatest dreams, heartbreaks and fears.
Set against the backdrop of both the women's liberation movement and the civil rights movement, the main character, Frankie, shows us how the paradigm shift of our country's consciousness impacted the lives of these women and challenged their own, sometimes shameful, beliefs.
I love that Clayton connected her characters to great literary works of the past--each one of them bringing a favorite author, character or classic piece of literature to the table with them as an inspiration.
I found the book touching and inspiring, reminding me of my own love of writing and the one or two friends who've shared that love with me for decades.