The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az1jyGM+mB65M9iSYJGxO3RSWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczu The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel

by Patricia Harman

I was really looking forward to reading this follow-up to Harman’s The Midwife of Hope River, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Sadly, The Reluctant Midwife proved to be a disappointment.

This latest novel has Nurse Becky Meyers in the starring role; she was a minor character in the first novel.  It’s 1934 and America is in the throes of the Great Depression, and Becky has unwittingly become the sole caretaker of her boss, Dr. Isaac Blum, who has fallen into a mysterious, near-catatonic state.  Out of money, owing back rent at a boardinghouse, the two hightail it out of town in the middle of the night and head back to Hope River, where Dr. Blum still owns a house.  However, when they arrive, Becky discovers that the doctor’s property was sold to pay back taxes.  Having nowhere to go, she takes Dr. Blum to the midwife Patience Murphy’s house, which they find vacant, and soon learn that the midwife married the town’s veterinarian and now lives at his house.

Almost everyone is out of work, and Becky’s search for a job is difficult.  She works for a short time delivering groceries, and then finds work as a nurse at a CCC camp.  Meanwhile, she also assists Patience Murphy at births, although midwifery is not what she would prefer to do – hence the title of the book.

I wish the characters had been more well-developed.  I wish the dialogue didn’t contain so many exclamation marks! as their proliferation took away from what could have been a more serious story, I felt.  There are some good birth scenes, but a lot of the drama in the story tipped into melodrama.  Unfortunately, the editing is also shoddy, as there are typos throughout the story.  Probably my number one complaint, though, is the character of Dr. Blum.  I think the story would be much improved by the elimination of his entire character.  I just could not take him seriously at all – a man who supposedly falls into a catatonic state in response to the deaths of two people (his wife, who was a total bitch, and her lover), so disabled is he, apparently, that he loses the power of speech, he drools, “poops in his pants,” has to be hand-fed, and helped with his toileting.  But then it turns out he’s (sort of) faking it!  And then he and Becky fall in love, and … blah blah blah.  I just couldn’t buy it, and frankly found it a little repugnant.

It’s been a couple of years since I read The Midwife of Hope River, and I no longer have the book so I can’t go back and skim through it, but I seem to remember the characters and the storyline just being a lot more believable.  The characters populating this latest novel seem more like caricatures, and not real people to be taken very seriously.  Thus, it was also difficult to become invested in any of them.

If you’re looking for an okay, light read, this’ll do.

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

Midwife-of-Hope-River-Barnes The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife (P.S.)
by Patricia Harman

I’m drawn to stories of midwives, both real and fictional.  They appeal to my reverence for pregnancy and birth, and the passionate feelings I have about home birth and midwifery.

Patricia Harman worked as a direct entry home birth midwife for many years before becoming a nurse midwife who helped women deliver their babies in hospital and birth center settings.  Her first book, a memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir (which I have not read) was published in 2008; this is her third book, and her first novel.

In it, Harman tells the story of Patience Murphy, a woman who stumbled into midwifery quite by accident.  Patience – whose real name is Elizabeth, but she goes by the pseudonym – has been on the run from her past and the law for almost as long as she can remember.  She never intended to wind up living on the outskirts of Liberty, West Virginia, delivering babies, but she’s become accustomed to the twists and turns that life has doled out to her.  Spunky and smart-alecky on the surface, inside she holds grief powerful enough to destroy her if she lets it.  Set during the Depression, Patience risks her life by openly befriending and living with a young black woman, putting her on the local KKK’s most wanted list.

There are joyous depictions of birth in this story, as well as stories tragic enough to make it all feel very realistic.  As the saying goes, I laughed and I cried – numerous times.  When Patience meets the town’s veterinarian, what eventually occurs is somewhat predictable: a very sweet romance that fortunately doesn’t overtake the story.

How authors choose to end their novels is always intriguing to me.  Some wrap things up neatly, and others, like Harman in this novel, leave the ending open for the reader to imagine for themselves.  That’s a special talent, I think.

I really enjoyed this book and was sorry when I closed it after reading the last page.