On Saturday, I finished Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. This book was so good that I could’ve devoured it more quickly than I did – but it was also the type of “so good” that I wanted to savor it for as long as possible. It’s not often I come across an entirely original plot that pulls me in the way this book did, and I am so glad my mom recommended it to me and gave me her hard copy.
Once again, I am late to the club. This book actually came out in the late 90s, and nearly two decades later I am still thrilled with the storyline.
The story is told from the perspective of Connie, the young teenage daughter of northern Vermont midwife Sybil Danforth. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from Sybil’s personal diary, so the reader also gets a glimpse into her mind and perspective.
The book involves a particular birth that Sybil midwifes that ends up going badly. I don’t want to spoil the story, but the remainder of the book involves the details of the birth and the court case that results because of it. Potential crime, matters of life and death, loyalty, family and the consequences of action are all woven together as the case unfolds over the following year. The novel concludes with the jury’s verdict but doesn’t leave loose ends. Bohjalian also details the subsequent actions of Sybil and signs off with a final diary entry from her.
Sybil became such a real person to me, and I found myself literally gasping out loud and shaking my head at various times throughout the novel. (I’m sure Nathan wondered what in the heck I was reading about!) Bohjalian’s writing style is perfect for this type of plot. Enough description is provided to fully develop characters, place and experiences, but the hard plot line is not lost in flowery excessive details.
I was particularly impressed with the author’s skill in writing dialogue. The exchanges that take place between characters – with little information added in between the actual quotes – is real and riveting. It felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation happening right in the room, or like I was privy to a court case unfolding before my eyes. It was gripping when the lawyers began presenting their cases and battled back and forth with witnesses.
Ultimately, the most gratifying part of reading this book was getting to the end and realizing that it had an absolutely perfect ending. It’s not that I wasn’t left thinking about the story hours later – in fact, the opposite is true; it’s that it had exactly the ending that this plot needed. Bohjalian understood this story better than anybody and gave it the ending it deserves – an ending that the reader doesn’t realize is inevitable until it’s right before them on the page.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Stats: 372 pages
Recommended for: Women mostly, I would guess. Men may find some aspects interesting, but up front, so much attention is given to childbirth, a mother’s intuition and the art of midwifery that I think it would be hard for a guy to get past that enough to appreciate the harder case behind it. (At least that’s what I would say when it comes to the guys I know.)
Up Next: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and Goldfinch by Donna Tartt