Posts tagged ‘Florida’

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

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – Gators love ’em some marshmallows

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Published in 2010
For this book I am saying “read it”, but know that this book has some problems.  It was originally a short story that was then lengthened into a novel and it is obvious.  I can tell when I start skimming during the “exciting” parts of a book that just perhaps this has gone on a bit too long.
When Mark and I went to New Orleans a few years ago I had this bright idea to go on a gator boat ride.  But once  we had gotten there, paid and got on the boat did I begin to regret this decision.  The boat captain (I am being generous here) would throw marshmallows at the ‘gators to get them to swim out towards the boat.  And them gators, they love marshmallows.  But it made me think “wait marshmallows are bad for people so they can’t be good for alligators” and “this kind of makes me sad” and “couldn’t we have spent that $14.00 on beignets instead.” So this is what this book reminded me of because it is another sad gator story (no, not really).
Ava Bigtree is the main character. She has grown to the ripe age of thirteen on an island in Florida on her family’s gator park.  The gator park has alligator wrestling, a cafe, and a museum of artifacts from the Bigtree tribe. At the beginning of the story it is hard to gauge how great this park really is because through Ava’s sheltered eyes it is an amazing park and her mother is a trophy winning alligator wrestler.  But once her mother dies from cancer, the gloves are off. The reader realizes that maybe everything isn’t what Ava thought it was.  And maybe all along they had just been feeding the gators marshmallows.
The story follows Ava and her older brother Kiwi who runs away to make money to save the park and get an education.  It does not follow Ossie, Ava’s sixteen year old sister, who believes she can hear spirits and runs away to marry a ghost.  So here is where I start to worry.  Ava seems so poor in her decision making that I started to blame her for her bad decisions. Which really bothers me. You can’t blame a 13 year old raised on an isolated island when she truly believes that a man is there to call off the birds.  You can’t blame a 16 year old when she has never had the luxury of young love and instead decides to focus on her ouiji board.  But still, as a reader, you do.
Then Russell, who does all of this guilt trip stuff, wraps the novel up before you can say “Bob’s your uncle” and you sit thinking “wait, did I just get fed a marshmallow?” And the answer is “yes, yes you did.”

June 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm 2 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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