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Midwives ~ Chris Bohjalian

November 8, 2010


Genre: Adult Fiction
Publisher: Vintage
384 pages
ISBN: 9780375706776

On a cold night, in icy Vermont, a well-loved, trusted, experienced midwife watches her client fight for life. Due to sudden hazardous conditions, outside of anyone’s control, efforts to transport the laboring mother to the emergency room are of no use. Despite every last safety precaution taken, the woman still collapses into a lifeless slump while midwife, apprentice and father-to-be watch helplessly.

Solemn quiet envelopes the group as they make their peace but another life waits to emerge. With the only choice she has left, Sibyl Danforth, our midwife and heroine makes, what she assumes is a post-mortem, uterine incision and lifts the baby to the world.

Only one life, instead of two, is lost.

After the events of the evening, though, conspiracy and suspicion begin to creep into the lives of all of those involved. With the sensationalism of the media, viciousness of modern litigation and ring of vengeance from grieving family, the happenings of the night are twisted and turned until they are no longer recounting survival but, rather, a much darker turn of events.

Sibyl holds that her client was undeniably passed before she performed surgery. Her intern and the husband of the deceased would like to tell you a different story.

This chilling tale is told, primarily, from the voice of Connie, Sibyl’s fourteen-year old daughter. Her voice is young and clear with a bit of a jaded edge as a result of the impending trial. Within the voice of innocence and youth, however, is another voice, woven in. At the beginning of each chapter, is a page or two from the journals Sibyl keeps of her clients. This voice begins as a benign, medical presence but soon moves to an emotional, spiritual and somewhat frantic side-car component to the story.

To those who may caution against reading the book based on its portrayal of midwives (or doctors or lawyers or even fourteen year old girls), it’s fair to say that Bohjalian takes aim at all characterizations equally. I wouldn’t use the book to base a true assessment of home birthing on but I also wouldn’t attempt to use it as an LSAT study guide, either. The story uses professions and profiles as chess pawns to illustrate a much larger conflict that a simple happening, one night in the woods. More than the dispute (that I’m well versed in) between Doctors and Midwives and the gray middle of Nurse-Midwives, the book serves to illustrate the way we handle tragedy, emergency and fear when presented in whatever context.

This was my first book by Bohjalian. I’ve always tossed him into the chick-lit, pulp fiction pile and while this may be an anomaly, I’d be willing to try another title by Chris if I one strikes me the right way. If anyone comes across a good one to suggest, I’m open to recommendations.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2010 12:03 am

    I loved Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, so I’d suggest reading that title.

  2. November 9, 2010 12:41 pm

    This book sounds amazing and like something that would keep me engrossed. I picked up a copy at a bookstore that was going out of business, but haven’t made the time for it yet. I am going to have to do that, as your review was wonderful and I am now intrigued! Thanks for the excellent and thoughtful review!

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