Those who know me know that I’m a little leery of the modern novels. I simply do not see the need to add sex and language to stories and it bugs me that so many authors do these days. It always feels like an attempt to sensationalize which always falls flat. Since sex scenes and language are both so prevalent in the modern novel, I usually pass on reading them unless someone who knows me well recommends one. That, or the premise of the book sounds mellow enough that I hope for the best in hopes that the story might leave out those two things.
In the case of The Midwife of Hope River, I agreed to accept it for review because it sounded calm and mellow. I had hopes and they weren’t (exactly) dashed. On the whole, I can honestly say that I rather enjoyed this story. The writer’s style is rather poetic and serene. Almost from the first page I was sucked into the story of small town midwife, Patience Murphey, who worked in the Appalachia during the Great Depression. Author Patricia Harman unfolds her story very gradually so that something of a great mystery shrouds Patience. We know that she has a past history and we guess that it is sordid but we do not know all of the facts until almost the very end of the book. (This makes the reader keep reading, you know.)
Tales of home births and Patience’s involvement in them are scattered throughout. The author of this book was a midwife herself once upon a time and so the birth stories which are shared have a very realistic, midwifery feel to them. (I have several friends who have home birthed and will do so again. I looked into it, briefly, but ultimately decided against it. On either side of the fence, you have a lot of women with strong opinions about how babies enter this world!) Harman is definitely passionate about midwifery and for that sake alone I found the reading of The Midwife of Hope River very interesting and entertaining.
Because this is one of those books in which the story of the main character is unwrapped gradually, I don’t want to say too much as to the story itself. I will tell you that there are many social issues wrapped up inside of this work. Harmen hits on issues of slavery, discrimination, the Ku Klux Klan, equal rights of women, and homosexual relationships. (There is a brief description which is two paragraphs in length in which Patience discovers that her two female friends are lovers.) Patience, herself, is not squeaky clean, and because her moral standard is much different than my own, I would hesitate in recommending this book to my conservative friends. The book doesn’t go down completely easily. That said, I very much appreciated the fact that Patricia Harman, while including characters whose lifestyle I would not agree with, and who is much more liberal minded than myself, didn’t feel the need to write about these issues in vivid detail. Instead of offering us detailed descriptions, she painted vague generalities, letting the reader know what was happening (or what had happened) without being remotely graphic. Herman assumes her readers can draw their own conclusions, a fact I very much appreciated. This left me able to read the story all the way to the end.
The first half of the book, I loved and adored. The second half I endured more than anything else. But in the end, I found myself enduring it happily enough and, as I say, on the whole I did like it. It is a very diverting tale. That all to say: conservative readers beware. But those less conservative who are looking for a good story would no doubt enjoy this one!
Thanks to William Morrow for shooting a copy of this one my way in exchange for my honest opinion.
Carrie blogs about stories she loves – as well as some she doesn’t – over at Reading to Know.