Set in gritty Depression-era West Virginia, Harman’s debut novel tells the story of rural midwife Patience Murphy, a woman who loves helping new mothers bring children into the world. But a secret, violent past keeps her from letting anyone get too close, at least until she acquires a black housemate named Bitsy as well as Hester, a handsome neighbor and veterinarian whose exposure to dying horses in WWI fueled his decision to take up his father’s vocation. As times grow harder than they already are, these three unlikely friends have to pull together, even if it means revealing secrets that could bring trouble to them all. While Harman (Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey, a memoir), a certified nurse-midwife who has practiced in many rural communities, clearly has a comprehensive understanding of midwifery, her narrative pacing leaves much to be desired. Patience’s story is slow, and the characters that surround her are insufficiently drawn, creating more inertia than intrigue. Still, the stories of the births that Patience handles in this difficult era are fascinating. Agent: Barbara Braun, Barbara Braun Associates. (Sept.)
[A] frank, absorbing memoir from a midwife at a tiny West Virgina health clinic.
Well-written and heartfelt.
A moving and illuminating memoir from a talented nurse-midwife about the troubled courageous women in her care.
...will definitely renew your faith in love, loyalty, forgiveness, understanding and just plain HOPE.
The Midwife of Hope River...is still on my mind days after finishing. From start to satisfying conclusion, it is a beautifully imagined novel, a marvel of a debut, rich with fully realized characters and events. This is one I’ll read again, more slowly next time.
As always when writing of birth, the bleakest of times can be transformed by the power and beauty of birth...the moments of joy between new parents and their baby, between the mothers and the midwife, and between the midwife and her young assistant, light up the pages. Amen baby!
I learned, I laughed, I cried, but most of all I was deeply impressed by the artistry of the midwife and her central role in women’s lives prior to the advent of commercialized, institutionalized medicine. This novel will live in my heart for years to come.
a luminous novel of new beginnings, loss, love…and yes hope! Patricia Harman’s all-too-human stories of birth mingle with the harsh realities of rural life in the 1930s...A thoroughly satisfying read by a talented storyteller.
At age 36, Patience Murphy is a widow and union sympathizer whose radical past has sent her into hiding. When the Great Depression arrives, Patience is living in West Virginia, working as a novice midwife until the death of her mentor forces her to attend births alone. With the help of a nearby veterinarian and an African American girl, Bitsy, Patience keeps the wolves from her door. Called out at any hour of the day to the homes of both the poor and the not-so-poor, she slowly earns respect for her midwifery skills, if not much in the way of cash. Penning journal entries of each birth, as well as colorful back stories of the time she spent with anarchists and the two men she loved, Patience strives to make sense of her life. VERDICT Memoirist Harman (Arms Open Wide; The Blue Cotton Gown), herself a certified nurse-midwife, takes readers back to hardscrabble times and adds plenty of medical drama and a dash of romance, to offer an uncommonly good piece of American historical fiction. [For a contemporary take on midwives, see Bridget Boland's The Doula, coming in September from Gallery Books—Ed.]—Keddy Ann Outlaw, formerly with Harris County P.L., Houston
Prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan, unions, Mother Jones--the early-20th century would be a tough world for anyone. Orphan, unwed mother, widow, midwife--Patience Murphy is a worthy adversary. Following her acclaimed memoirs (Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey, 2011, etc.), Harman offers her debut novel, tracing the life of a midwife in Appalachia. Yet Patience Murphy is no ordinary midwife. Indeed, much of society would question whether she meets the primary qualification for midwives in early-20th-century America: good moral character. Orphaned at the age of 14, Patience is sent to live first with a kind widow and then to Saint Mary's House of Mercy Orphanage. She makes good use of herself, reading to the younger children and working in the laundry. Eventually, Patience escapes her drudgery to become a chorus girl, lying about her name and age to secure the job. There she falls in love with Lawrence, a scene designer. Soon pregnant, Patience loses her child when Lawrence is killed in a train wreck. Yet Patience's tribulations and adventures have only begun. She becomes a professional wet nurse, an accidental thief and a fugitive from a would-be rapist. She is welcomed on the fringes of society by union agitators and midwives--until a violent workers' strike brings her world crashing down. After fleeing to Appalachia, Patience finds herself hiding her past while trying to gain some professional respect--a difficult goal, given that midwives could not legally perform internal exams on their patients. Threading these events together are the fascinating birth stories. Midwives are warriors in this beautifully sweeping tale.