26 October 2012

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

Flap Copy from ARC: "As a midwife working in the hard-scrabble conditions of West Virginia during the Depression, Patience Murphy's only solace is her gift: escorting mothers through the challenges of childbirth. Just beginning in her profession, she takes on the jobs no one else wants, caring for those most in need - and least likely to pay. Patience is willing to do what it takes to fulfill her mentor's wishes, but starting a midwifery practice means gaining trust, and Patience's own secrets are too fragile for her to let anyone in - especially her neighbor, rugged veterinarian Daniel Hester."

Patience Murphy is honest from the get-go, saying "to be a midwife was never my goal." No stranger to loss (she was orphaned young, then widowed young, and lost a baby along with way), Patience suddenly finds herself a guardian of life when her friend and mentor dies and leaves her alone to deliver babies in rural West Virginia. Set in the depths of the Great Depression, this book describes with poignant realism the crippling poverty and despair governing the lives of Patience's patients; at the same time, with each baby she delivers, Patience sees renewed joy and hope for the women she meets.

Harman's writing is vivid and her characters are warm and richly developed. Patience's story is woven throughout the novel, her secretive present interspersed with a very different and wilder past; along the way we meet the wildly different people who have influenced her. Nothing about this novel felt overdone - I thought Patience's emotions and experiences leapt off the page with their unapologetic reality, both good and bad. The scene was always alive but never over-imagined. Harman masterfully captured one woman's (and really, her entire community's) experience in a particular time and place - there were moments in the book that made me forget I was reading a work of fiction.

I give this novel 5 stars, I highly recommend it!

Child Made of Sand: Poems by Thomas Lux

I was not familiar with the poetry of Thomas Lux before I received this book - I will say that after reading 'Child Made of Sand', I will definitely be looking for more of his works. This collection is all about memories, about looking back with a wiser eye on some of the most trivial yet key moments in a life. His language is quiet as he describes the unfettered emotions and mundane observations of childhood; at the same time, his line breaks are so carefully timed and his images so vividly written that even the mundane is beautiful. Lux's narrative is accessible and humorous, and surprising. He is clearly influenced by some of the great poets of the past, and pays tribute to them in his works.

My one clear criticism is that he seems to take himself a bit too seriously, and I thought some of the poems in the collection seemed less a part of the cohesive whole. I give this book 3 stars - I definitely want to read more from Lux, but I doubt this will be my favorite of his collections.