Posts filed under ‘August 2014 reads’

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

“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.

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

Slavery of the mind and body- “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd

I am embarrassed that I knew nothing about Sarah and Angelina Grimke before this book.  As an American woman I feel like I should have a better understanding of the amazing women who changed and shaped our lives.  Obviously something I need to do a better job of accomplishing.

The Grimke sisters were born to a slave-owning family in Charleston, South Carolina. Both women became abolitionists who spoke out against slavery in the mid-1800s, much to their family’s astonishment and disgrace.  They also worked tirelessly for women’s rights.  Sue Monk Kidd has taken Sarah Grimke’s story and written a piece of historical fiction.  The chapters interchange. The first chapter is narrated by a slave, Handful (aka Hetty), owned by the Grimkes. The narrator then changes in the next chapter to Sarah.

Handful’s story is harrowing and everything that is shameful and heart wrenching about slavery – particularly slavery for women, which has the added dimension of rape, pregnancy and motherhood.  Sarah’s story is also harrowing (though less so) as she is trapped in the limitations of being a woman in the 1800s.  Kidd does a commendable job of interweaving the two stories.  She addresses the fact that the unbelievable cruelty of humans can quite quickly become the acceptable normal if we let it.  Even Sarah, who knows in her soul that slavery is wrong, finds herself immune to it at times.

I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it. 

Kidd writes these characters well. All of the women, slave and slave owner, are multidimensional and extremely conflicted.  My struggle with the book is one of society – there were times when Sarah seemed so self-absorbed and removed from the pain of Handful.  But again, how to appropriately judge her is hard because, sitting in my comfortable reading chair in the year of 2014, my life is quite a bit different.  Kidd works tirelessly at conveying that while Handful’s body is enslaved, Sarah’s mind is enslaved.   And while one is quite a bit more devastating, slavery of the mind can be very dangerous.

Perhaps the most beautiful piece of the story is the quilting that Handful and her mother do together at night to tell the story of their lives.  This kind of need to talk about pain, to convey the journey, to know where we come from is powerful.  Without this connection, this history and beauty, Handful would have been lost to all of the horror of slavery with no reprieve.

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, “Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind.

quilt17

 

Other reviews to check out:

From Wednesday Book Review

From The Unlikely Librarian 

From daeandwrite

 

August 5, 2014 at 11:11 am 4 comments


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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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