Giving birth to a novel can be painful – “The Midwife of Hope River” by Patricia Harman

August 24, 2014 at 10:33 am Leave a comment

“The Midwife of Hope River” by Patricia Harman, Published in 2012

Harman was on the faculty of my alma mater, the Ohio State University. So, I truly was rooting for her and had hopes for her book.  But Harman writes fiction with lots of over-techinigued attempts at craft and suspense to keep the reader engaged shoved into what really should be a collection of short stories.  The effect becomes awkward and heavy handed. Harman has written some nonfiction about midwifery which is probably really interesting (see I am being nice because she is a former buckeye).

Patience Murphy is a midwife in the mountains of West Virginia in the 1930s.  The area has severe poverty and Patience is often paid in chickens or flour or often nothing at all.  Harman is obviously very knowledgable about midwifery and the countless stories of births that Patience attends are the book’s one saving grace.  Ah, but wait, Patience has her own grief and history to struggle with along the way. It is a dark past. A past that haunts her. That drives her to always be on her guard. That really, really…oh wait, you get it? But Harman really needs to make sure  you get it so there are little reminders in almost every chapter. Never forget, dear reader, that when Patience is crying for the death of a baby at one of the births she is attending she is not just crying for the baby. She is crying for her lost baby, for her lost husband, and on and on.  It truly is tedious.

The book also addresses racism, gender inequality, domestic violence and what poverty does to people.  It is a lot to tackle but in the type of interactions someone like Patience would have with her patients it makes sense that all of these issues would arise. It is unfortunate that in Harman’s hands it feels clunky and a bit forced.

This novel was disappointing but I read the whole thing.  I am not sure why. There were times where I would find my head turned slightly from the book with that squinty, side glance we all get when we have to look at something that pains us.   I guess Harman’s editor/publisher should have worked harder at helping her birth a better book.  And I have promised myself that next time I will put the book down as soon as I feel that squinty look with my head beginning to turn, even if the writer is a Buckeye.

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Entry filed under: August 2014 reads. Tags: , , , .

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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