The Reluctant Midwife was one of those reads that jumps out of the gate with a bang… lots of questions to be answered, leaping out in the middle of the story and letting the reader figure out what’s going on.
Nurse Becky and her silent companion, Dr. Blum have returned to post-Depression West Virginia, expecting to find a thriving community and old friends. Instead, tumbleweeds practically roll through town and all that is left of Patience’s (the old midwife)home is an empty house on barely tended land. There are no jobs and there is no home to turn around and go back to.
Nurse Becky, having finally found the midwife Patience (who has married and become a mother), needs to find a way to make ends meet. I’ve always been interested in the ins and outs of farm/frontier life, but the story seems to be buried in details. Checking cows for disease, planting flowers and food, reluctantly helping Patience bring babies into the world… not to mention the very slowly forthcoming story of Dr. Blum and why he is mute.
Around halfway through the novel, the POV changes and we begin hearing from Dr Blum, who rarely, if ever speaks. He is frozen in time, catatonic except for instances in which his instincts seem to take over. For the most part he can’t even brush his own teeth. At least, that’s what he wants Becky to think. Through a journal he begins to keep (because he’s been sneaking to read Becky’s) we learn about Blum’s wife… and her lover and the night that Blum died inside.
The ends have to meet, however, and though Becky is an RN, she becomes nervous and shaky at births. When Patience finds herself in a situation that confines her to her bed, Becky is forced to take over midwife duties. In between, she’s nursing at a camp of young gentlemen assigned to protect and serve the countryside.
For a novel called The Reluctant Midwife, the novel wasn’t about a woman who became a midwife against her wishes, really. There were stories of birth but not many. Among other things, attending to birthing mothers was just one skill put to good use.
For the record, I found the entrance of Dr Blum’s POV and his ‘recovery’ to be convenient. I feel like we could have been hearing from Blum all along and slowly built up to the story about his wife and his development over time.
This novel is… for lack of a better word… full. It was a good read that I blew through rather quickly despite it’s fullness. Lots of story and captivating detail about post Depression era life.