ARC Review: The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

Posted on November 10, 2015 by Regina | 0 Comments

It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

She didn't commit the crime, but clearing her name isn't so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that's dangerous. Invited into her neighbors' homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can't help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart.

With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it's worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now...especially since she's been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.

With Sandra Dallas's incomparable gift for creating a sense of time and place and characters that capture your heart, The Last Midwife tells the story of family, community, and the secrets that can destroy and unite them.

The Last Midwife was the most scandalous Western Mystery I have ever read. I LOVED it.

By the late 19th century, women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were making a name for themselves in the first Women’s Suffrage movement and Gynecology had just been professionalized. Where women’s care and the delivery of their babies had previously been left up to midwives, the culture was changing as men crowned themselves Gynecologists and cursed the tried-and-true midwives as ”witch doctors” or superstitious crows. Men were pushing women out of midwifery and we see an example of this in the novel. But despite men’s insistence on taking over this birthing role, tradition and modesty kept many a midwife around especially in more rural areas. Sandra Dallas offers a compelling gender and cultural study in The Last Midwife where the Midwest is slowly catching up to the new medical ”advances” and cultural shifts of the time.

A Midwife wrapping her kit, preparing to leave for a delivery.
A Midwife wrapping her kit, preparing to leave for a delivery.

This novel was simply captivating. The first hundred pages or so move along at a slower pace as the story world is being set up and the main characters are being introduced, but good God I couldn’t put this book down afterwards.

Set in a Colorado mining town in the 1880s (think post-Civil War/Reconstruction) Sandra Dallas paints a thought-provoking story of the culture of the American Midwest while divulging the secret lives of its inhabitants through the eyes of Gracy Brookens, the main character.

There are some truly scandalous scenarios relayed as Gracy remembers all of the women she has served and the babies she has delivered. It was such a clever point of view to tell this story from. Despite the era and culture Gracy has come to age in, she is a strong and independent woman. There is a story that unfolds in the background about Gracy and her husband and her son that once completely revealed, squeezed my voice box with emotion.

This was the first book I had the pleasure of reading by Sandra Dallas and I will definitely be checking out the rest of her work. If you like historical snapshots of time periods that study gender roles and cultural climates, then you will love this book. The mystery was an added bonus to the execution of this historically vivid and accurate picture of life in the 1880s, and the twist ending didn’t disappoint.

Just for fun:

If you are interested in a more modern look at Midwifery or, professionalized midwifery, take a look at the great PBS/BBC series Call the Midwife.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVfdZevxf_o

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Classical music nerd by day, freelance writer and blogger by night. When I review books, I don't dish out and rehash every character and detail. What's the point of reading a book if you give most of the deets away in a review??? My reviews are more about my impressions and over all experience with the book. I am also a world-renowned armchair psychologist, and love to psychoanalyze authors.
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