book review, historical fiction, history

Review: The Midwife’s Revolt by Jodi Daynard

When I wrote the first two parts of my Am Rev series, one of my main motivators was simply writing a story I wanted to read. I’ve found that fiction about the American Revolution is surprisingly lacking in volume, so whenever I do find any–especially with women as the central characters–I jump at the chance to read it. I’ve had my eye on Jodi Daynard’s The Midwife’s Revolt for some time, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally bought it after seriously craving a good 18th century based novel to sink my teeth into.

Midwife is a framed story–starting in the days of the early republic and going back as main character Lizzie Boylston recounts her story to the reader, as if writing a diary. As an aside, this stylistic choice of breaking the 4th wall was sometimes distracting and other times endearing. I’ve read a fair number of diaries by 18th century women, specifically women who experienced the Revolution, and I believe this novel is true to those lives. Friendship and fellowship among women when most of the men were gone was key to their survival and their parts (however small or large) in the Revolution. Daynard excels in portraying these friendships as sisterhoods–Lizzie even counts Abigail Adams as one of her greatest friends and confidants, and it is around her death in which Lizzie frames her tale.

Although these women may seem quite modern to some readers, Daynard, in my opinion, accurately portrays what life was like in that women sometimes acted out of their place, sometimes (perhaps more than people realize, actually!) had pre-marital sex and babies born out of wedlock, sometimes knew a little more about politics than men wanted them to. Often people think of women in this time as obedient and demure, but that was most certainly not the case in all women–just look at Abigail Adams, for starters. Even the diaries of Hannah Callendar Samson and Martha Ballad demonstrate streaks of independence. Speaking of Martha Ballard–it wasn’t until I read the author’s note that I confirmed my inkling that Daynard had indeed read this diary, too. I could tell she had because of the detail she’d injected into Lizzie’s story–for example, if the father of a woman’s baby was unknown, the woman would be asked during her labor (“while in great travail”) as it was thought a woman could not lie while in such great pain. Overall, I greatly appreciated Daynard’s accurate portrayal of women–complex women, during the 18th century.

The narrative was fast-paced; as the novel encompasses 5 years (not counting the framed pieces). The novel was so fast paced, however, that I often found myself wishing it would slow down and expand on a certain scene or characters’ emotion rather than paragraphs of summarization. I’ve had this same qualm with other novels, and I think it really just comes down to stylistic tastes. I greatly prefer living in a scene for a great period of time, to really see and feel everything around me rather than chunks that gloss over events. However, I will say that I think Midwife and the second book in the series, Our Own Country, might have been one novel at one point? I could be wrong about that, but from the description it seems as if these books take place concurrently? Book 2 seems to delve deeper into the summarization of events in Book 1 concerning the character of Eliza. I do intend to read book 2, by the way, and I hope it fills in the gaps of Midwife.

Also, much respect to Jodi Daynard for self-publishing this series and it becoming so successful! My understanding is that she self-pubbed, and then it was picked up by Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing for wider distribution.

Grade: A-