What happens when a person discovers that he or she may have accidentally killed someone? How does a person make peace with him or herself in such a situation? Can he or she ever admit to such a mistake?
While these questions may be unresolvable, Christopher Bohjalian raises them all and provides some interesting answers in his latest book, MIDWIVES.
Sibyl Danforth is a midwife in a small town in Vermont. Her patient, Charlotte Bedford, goes into labor one night, and seemingly suffers a stroke and dies. Prevented by a snowstorm from getting her patient to a hospital, Sibyl performs an emergency Caesarian section to save the baby.
But was Charlotte really dead? Sibyl is certain she was; even after several rounds of CPR, she was unable to rouse Charlotte or detect a pulse. The medical examiner says no; he believes that Sibyl died as a result of the surgery Sibyl performed. After an investigation, Sibyl is charged with involuntary manslaughter and eventually brought to trial.
With meticulous detail, Christopher Bohjalian examines the trial from the perspective of Connie, Sibyl's fourteen-year-old daughter. While she never really doubts her mother's innocence, she comes to understand that her mother may well be convicted, and this realization forces her to change her perspective about a number of issues.
The book is filled with moral ambiguity, questions about medical ethics and law, and is perceptive in its portrayal of a family in crisis. If the questions that it raises are disturbing, the answers are no less so, and once you turn the last page --- and you have to turn the last page to find out what happened --- you will find yourself thinking about the issues Bohjalian raises for a long while.
Reviewed by Judith Handschuh on January 22, 2011