While I have enjoyed every Bohjalian novel I’ve read (though if you are new to him, don’t start with The Night Strangers), I was in no real hurry to pick this novel up. I think sometimes I’m hesitant to read older novels by some authors, afraid they won’t be nearly as good as their later work (for example, I really didn’t like Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh), even though some people peak early and can never recapture the magic of earlier novels. Maybe it was just the fact that the premise of the story didn’t interest me as much because I don’t plan on having kids or giving birth or anything like that. Once I picked it up, it was just as good as any other one of his novels. In fact, I’m kind of surprised he doesn’t seem to be a more popular author – his novels have covered a variety of topics, always focus on the characters and their relationships, and some have twists, but since not all of them have twists, I’m not reading the novel expecting a twist, and am instead pleasantly surprised when there is a twist, adding an extra layer of complexity to the narrative I thought I just read. Given that this particular novel dealt with court room drama, I especially found myself thinking Jodi Picoult fans should totally read him though his novels are better told and written.
Connie Danforth, the daughter of midwife Sybil Danforth (she is a lay-midwife, not a nurse midwife) and Rand, narrates the novel several years after the events that are the focus of the story. In 1981, Sybil attends a homebirth for Charlotte Bedford, and though she originally expected no complications, the labor takes a long time, the expectant mother is exhausted, and Sybil considers transferring her to the hospital. Unfortunately, there is also a terrible winter storm that night in March, and the phones are out and the roads impassable – they are stuck in that bedroom in the isolated house in Vermont. Eventually, Charlotte dies, and Sybil does an emergency casearean to save the baby. However, Sybil’s new assistant and midwife apprentice Anne doubts what she saw, and starts making phone calls to people, implying that Sybil did not save a baby from its dead mother’s body – instead, she cut into a living woman, thus killing her. The rest of the novel examines the after effects of these two very differing views of the events of that evening