First, my apologies to my loyal followers for this length of silence. I could give you a list of excuses, but they boil down to: work, sick, work.
Now on to the good stuff.
The Birth House was an entertaining, quick read. Basically I finished it in three sittings over the weekend. Yeah, that quick.
Set in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, at the brink of the women’s suffrage movement, the novel centers on a young girl – Dora Rare – with the “gift” of midwifery. Through her story, the reader catches a glimpse (or a reminder) of the power men have held – both in the home and outside it – and the strength required of women to work around, and more often than not, in spite of, in order to achieve their goals and desires.
Don’t expect a scholarly dissertation on women’s liberation, though. McKay self-describes her book as a scrapbook of literature – combining diary entries with newspaper articles, letters and even ads from the Ladies Rural Companion. (Who knew vibrators were so accessible in the early 1900’s?)
But what you can expect is to meet a parade of interesting characters including Dora’s mentor, an elderly homeopath; an eccentric Madame; and a pious church lady caught in not so pure relations with the minister. However, anything that might be seen as a shortfall in these female roles is excused as a necessary means to fulfill their own needs.
The men in the novel don’t fair so well – most are beaters or cheaters or both. They are portrayed as inconsiderate, sex-driven animals who want nothing more than to father as many children as they can’t afford while at best, refusing their wives time to heal after childbirth and at worst, prostituting their teenage daughters. (Only two finish in a fare light – Dora’s brother and her brother-in-law, who ends as Dora’s lover.)
In short, colorful characters and the ingenuity of its strongest women, provide the pleasure in this entertaining weekend read.