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Midwives- A Book Review
The novel, Midwives, is written from the perspective of the 31 year old daughter of a New England midwife who is accused of neglect in the death of one of her patients. The plot revolves around the trial, which happened when the narrator was fourteen. Midwives is an excellently crafted novel and surprisingly is written by a male, Chris Gohialian.
The story begins at the end of Sybil Danforth’s trial. Connie, her fourteen-year old daughter, believes that because when the jury finishes deliberating and re-enters the court, and no one looks at her mother, the verdict is going to be “guilty.” She becomes hysterical. From there, the narration flashes back to the details of what brought them to this place. She gives just enough information to solidly hook the reader.
The details of the case against Sybil come in bits and spurts, between the details of Connie’s teen-aged crush and the portrait of Sybil’s career as a midwife, forcing the reader to hold on till the next tidbit of the drama unfolds.
To help readers see Sybil as a woman "called" to her craft and to side with her, Gohialian includes at least one journal entry in each chapter. These journal entries become key pieces of evidence at the end of the novel.
On one of the worst Vermont winter nights, Sybil Danforth is called by Reverend Asa Bedford to deliver his wife’s second child. Though Charlotte Bedford’s pregnancy has been relatively normal, the delivery goes on way too long, and Sybil eventually decides she needs to get Charlotte to the hospital. Sybil falls on the ice-covered driveway but makes it to her car eventually, only to slide into a snow embankment that stops the car cold. Back inside she tries again to help Charlotte deliver her baby-- to no avail. During what should have been the last phase of labor, Charlotte dies. In order to save the baby, Sybil decides to do an emergency cesarean section. Instead of being hailed a hero, Sybil is arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter
Midwives is not for the faint of heart. Scenes of babies entering life are extremely graphic. Charlotte’s delivery and death made me have to put the book aside for a day, but the story is so compelling that I had to go back. The research on midwifery is so well blended in to the narrative that a reader is almost unaware that he/she’s getting a history or medical lesson. Chris Bohjalian is a master craftsman who will keep you worrying about his heroine and admiring his narrator until the last page (370). If you like a gripping tale with a surprise ending, Midwives is a book you should definitely pick up.