The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

The Secrets of MidwivesThe Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved this book, which tells the story of three distinct women-grandmother Floss, mother Grace, and daughter Neva-who are all midwives, who all love each other deeply, and who all sometimes drive each other crazy.
What I love about it:
Author Sally Hepworth writes with respect, awe, and warmth for women who are pregnant, giving birth, and supporting other women.
Hepworth clearly has done a lot of research about the state of present-day midwifery in the United States, as well as how it has been regulated and practiced during the past 50 years.
The Secrets of Midwives goes back and forth in time between Floss beginning her practice in England in the 1950’s, and Neva and Grace practicing in Rhode Island, in the present day.
If, like me, you were fascinated by the novel Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, (and in particular, by the complex dynamics of being a midwife in a time and place in which modern western medicine often promotes hospital births as THE RIGHT way for a woman to give birth) you will also find much to chew on in Hepworth’s novel.

Neva is a midwife who works in a birthing center, where there are pediatricians and ob-gyns present, whereas her mom, Grace, a certified midwife, mostly assists in home births (unless a complicated birth necessitates hospital intervention.)
However, even if you’re not fascinated by this stuff, you’ll still find a lot to enjoy in The Secrets of Midwives.
For one thing, Hepworth writes a rollicking good tale. In Floss, Grace, and Neva, she has created three women who I cared about (though I will admit to feeling frustrated with all of them at times).
I also loved the settings…rural England, present day coastal Rhode Island…this was great summer escapism.
The Secrets of Midwives is by no means as intense or dark (for the MOST part) as Bohjalian’s Midwives. It reminded me tonally  of the novels of Kate Morton mixed with those of Julie Cohen. The Secrets of Midwives was a book I was pretty sure would end happily, even though it contained tragedy.
There were a couple of things which I didn’t love about this book. First, it was, at times, disappointingly superficial/gender oppressive. For example, the men that Neva falls for obviously have to be gorgeous, obviously, Neva is gorgeous, (in ways that are in alignment with all our cultural expectations for today!) Not a big surprise, but it would have made me happier, if this book, with so much going for it, could have challenged those norms.
I also felt bad for Floss’s lover Lil, who was long-suffering, quiet, and mostly ignored by the three main characters. It really ticked me off, to be honest, the way she was treated, and how it seemed that everyone just assumed that she had no story of her own, other than as a support to them.
That said, I ENJOYED The Secrets of Midwives. When Sally Hepworth writes another tale, I will be right there reading it.

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The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night StrangersThe Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Night Strangers is the first novel I have read by Chris Bohjalian, and I think I’ve found a new addiction! I absolutely loved this touching, disturbing, frightening tale of a family who move to an isolated old house in rural New Hampshire to escape a tragic past, and in fact, encounter a new and greater danger.
The Night Strangers has two main perspectives. The first is that of Chip, the pilot of an aircraft which collides with a flock of geese and who is forced to attempt a water landing. The plane crash, told from the second-person perspective of Chip, is one of the most harrowing prologues to a novel I have yet read. Following the crash, Chip and his family move to a rural area to try to put the past, and his PTSD, behind them.
The second perspective in The Night Strangers is the third-person narration following Chip’s wife Emily, their twin daughters, Hallie and Garnet, and various neighbors in their adopted community. Chip and his family are immediately likeable. Chip is a devoted father with a passion for flying and immense guilt over a plane crash that he could not have prevented. Emily is calm, kind, and intelligent, and the twins, while having very different personalities, are also the closest of companions. The villagers, on the other hand, are a group of women, and a few men, who have an almost obsessive penchant for gardening, or being “herbalists,” as they call themselves. At first, the community seems idyllic, but, as in the tradition of The Stepford Wives, the herbalists are not as innocuous as they at first appear.
I enjoyed so many things about The Night Strangers. First of all, as mentioned above, Bohjalian has a gift of writing an absolutely gripping, hold-your-breath, kind of scary scene. But along with this, he writes characters with great emotional depth and authenticity. Despite the fact that The Night Strangers is a story with elements of the supernatural, it felt to me as if I really didn’t have to suspend disbelief. Bohjalian writes about the supernatural in such a way that I would think, “yes, if such things exist, this is what it would be like.” Bohjalian also is a master of creating a setting that adds to the mood of his story. The Victorian house in New Hampshire, and the descriptions of nature, lend a sense of beauty, fragility, and spookiness to the tale.
Finally, Bohjalian includes fascinating detail about airplanes, plane crashes, and the use of plants by herbalists. He includes detail in a way that enhances the story, rather than slowing down the plot.
So in so many ways, The Night Strangers was a lovely discovery for me. I liked it so much that I purchased Bohjalian’s Midwives, also set in the northeastern United States, and began reading that before I had completely finished The Night Strangers.  Bohjalian has written 17 books, which vary from historical fiction to thriller, and I am very much looking forward to enjoying more of his work.

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