Friday, January 8, 2016

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

The Last MidwifeWhen I see a Sandra Dallas novel, I expect somehow the story will touch on women's passion for quilting.  When I checked out her newest novel THE MIDWIFE from our library, I was not sure if my premise would hold true.  Set in a small mining town in 1880 Colorado, of course, the women quilt, and Gracy Brookens love for bits of fabric carefully sewn together by hand does make up part of her essence, but it is her life as midwife that defines her.  From her first solo delivery at age 10 through many decades that followed, Gracy has delivered dozens of babies and nursed their mothers. She had delivered so many that she no longer knew the count, but in her heart she's never forgotten the sickly ones who did not survive, and the mothers too weak from their hard lives in the west or from too many babies too close together.  And at the center of her heartache are her own babies who never drew a breath, except one little girl survived for a few years.  So when Gracy is accused of strangling an infant by the child's grandfather, the same man who had fired Gracy's husband from the mine months earlier, the small Colorado town divides over its allegiances.  Most are afraid to speak out against mine owner Jonas Halleck, even those who know in their hearts that Gracy could not harm an infant.  The sheriff, long a friend of Gracy and husband Daniel, must gather evidence and proceed with her arrest or lose his job.

The trial of someone wrongfully accused certainly makes for an exciting book, but it is Gracy's life story that gives this novel its depth.   She has been the confidant of generations of women, keeping their secrets when they could tell no one else.  She has tried to heal their bodies and often their minds, too. She has been deeply loved by her husband, but has also faced the deepest pain. disappointment, and abandonment.  I've read many novels set in the 1800s, a time of great opportunity for America's settlers and immigrants, but Dallas has done a superb job in portraying what a hardship it was for the women.  As I read, I kept thinking to myself how much we take for granted good health, safe pregnancies, and medical care.  I was so caught up in the drama of the babies born, even after Gracy's arrest, that Dallas was able to finish the story with a plot twist that I never anticipated.  I sort of wished our book club had chosen this title as a 2016 read because I would love to discuss this book with others.  Luckily for me, I have not read all Sandra Dallas's writings and I will be able to
pursue other titles soon.

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