Sunday, May 27, 2012

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian


* * * 1/2

The book's description from the author's website:

On an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, a seasoned midwife named Sibyl Danforth takes desperate measures to save a baby's life. She performs an emergency cesarean section on a mother she believes has died of a stroke. But what if Sibyl's patient wasn't dead—and Sybil inadvertently killed her? 

As Sibyl faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.

The only other book that I read by Bohjalian was The Double Bind, and I really, really liked it. I fell under the spell of Bohjalian's writing and the ending stunned me. It was, therefore, an easy choice for me to go for Midwives, whose ratings are much higher, as the next book of his among many to pick from. I must say though, that Midwives just didn't do for me what The Double Bind did. The writing was probably just as good but I was disappointed with the ending. I was expecting the stunner and I didn't get it. There is a bit too much foreshadowing that helped me make up my mind as to how the novel was going to end, and I was right. Nevertheless, it is still quite a good story, and it definitely didn't turn me off from reading more of Mr. Bohjalian's books. His peculiar style of writing which at once makes the story very quick and easy to follow, and gives it a dreamlike quality, appeals to me.

Besides the writing itself, I enjoyed and appreciated the topic of midwifery and home birth. Despite the story being set in the eighties, it's pretty much just as current today, two decades later. I like controversial subjects, there's much to ponder on and to have thoughtful for/against arguments. A novel such as Midwives simply makes you think a little more. I have delivered three babies, all three of them in the hospital under the care of either a doctor or a certified nurse midwife. Personally, while feeling a lot more confident about the safety of my children and of my own in the hospital environment, I absolutely loved the midwife I had for my second baby. They are just so much more caring and understanding than the doctors, who on the other hand feel a tad too cocky and have an attitude of I've-seen-it-all and you're-not-special-in-your-labor-experience. Midwives goes a little bit deeper than that. It's not only about birth at home with a not certified midwife, but most importantly about a mother's choice and parents responsibility for the consequences if something goes wrong. Sybil alone was on trial but I think that the father should have been right next to her for negligence to take all factors into account, or not sue Sybil at all. In that, Midwives is a very interesting read. as the implications are layered, especially because there was a life of an infant at stake as well. I think that's a choice no one wants to face: who do you save, the mother or the baby?

Midwives is not a novel to send a reader through a storm of emotions. You don't have to be mentally braced to take whichever shocking or awful thing is coming, as in the case of some of the books of Picoult, for example (My Sister's Keeper was just awful in this way, I never want to weep like this throughout the entire book, ever again). Chris Bohjalian, instead, surprises you with subtle moments that stir your emotions, weaved in-between the pages of the book. I like that. If you're not ready to wake up in the morning with puffy eyes and a pounding headache from crying way too much, but with a head full of valid questions to think about instead, I think you'll like Midwives too.


FTC: I bought Midwives by Chris Bohjalian.