Picks and Pans Review: Midwives

updated 08/25/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/25/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Chris Bohjalian

A superbly crafted and astonishingly powerful novel, this small-town drama from Vermont writer Chris Bohjalian will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. On an icy night in rural New England, midwife Sibyl Danforth uses a kitchen knife to perform an emergency cesarean section on a patient who, after a harrowing labor, has stopped breathing. Though Sibyl manages to save the infant, her assistant is convinced that the minister's wife was still alive when the knife went into her belly. Brought to trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, the seasoned midwife—a tie-dyed idealist—loses her practice and struggles to preserve her sense that the world is a just place. Narrated by her clear-eyed daughter Connie (an obstetrician who was 14 at the time of the tragedy), the story is taut and seductive. No melodrama; just artful twists and turns—and a reminder that the truth is apt to shimmer, change form and, finally, vanish. (Harmony, $24)

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