Thanks to the Fall Into Reading 2011 Challenge, I finally got around to reading a novel my neighbor lent me over a year ago, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. This one was different from the other Bohjalian novels I’ve read; it’s basically a courtroom drama about a midwife accused of involuntary manslaughter when one of her clients dies in childbirth.
Sibyl is a sort of stereotypical midwife, living in rural Vermont with her husband and daughter. She and her husband were hippies in the 60’s and settled down a bit when they had their daughter, though Sibyl still retains some of her innate hippie-ness, wearing peasant skirts and driving a beat-up old station wagon, and, of course, firmly believing in a mother’s right to give birth in her own home.
The novel is told mostly from the perspective of her daughter, Connie, looking back at the year her mother was charged and tried when Connie was only fourteen years old. It begins in the courtroom, just before the jury reads their decision and backtracks to gradually fill in the details of what led to the trial. Sibyl was trying to help her client, Charlotte, give birth when a severe ice storm hit northern Vermont, leaving the roads impassable and making it impossible for Sibyl to transport Charlotte to a hospital when things began to go wrong. When she believed she had lost Charlotte, she performed an emergency c-section right there on the bed to save the baby, but the prosecutors claim that Charlotte was not yet dead and that Sibyl killed her with the primitive surgery.
It’s a suspenseful courtroom drama, and Bohjalian provides enough background on Sibyl and her family that you come to care for them and hope they survive this disaster intact. The story is especially poignant told from the perspective of Connie, at such a vulnerable age when her life is torn apart by this tragedy and looking back on it from adulthood. I enjoyed the novel and read it fairly quickly. Although I didn’t find it quite as compelling as The Double Bind (still my favorite of Bohjalian’s books), it was suspenseful and thought-provoking.