Our local Friends of the library has frequent book sales, where I do my best to support an institution I love, both through volunteerism and patronage. At the last book sale, I found this novel tucked into the health/science section by someone who judged a book by its title, not its content. As I walked it toward the fiction section, I read the back blurb, then decided perhaps it should come home with me, instead.
In my younger days I spent much time in the West Virginia mountains. There, I got to know many folks whose family had settled the hills -- hardworking, forthright people, who cared for their families, land and mountains with a determination and strength bred through the generations. This book takes place in the early 1900's in those same hills of West Virginia. In the characters that populate the pages, I could see the ancestry of the mountain people who populated my youth.
The story itself is of Elizabeth Whitely, who was born into a long line of midwives, women who "caught babies" born to the other women of the mountains. While Elizabeth struggles with her destiny, she also struggles with her heart, for she has loved one man since childhood, and while he cares for her, he's given his heart to a woman "from off" (as we say here). Though Ivy and Elizabeth become friends, and Elizabeth becomes godmother to Ivy's daughter Lauren, she can't put aside her love for Ivy's husband. And when Ivy dies, and Elizabeth takes her place as woman of the house, it is with the knowledge that she'll never win the heart of Lauren's father. And then Elizabeth's world gets turned sideways when Lauren begins to display the gift of healing.
While this might sound like a depressing tale, it's one of those gently written novels that spins images with the words and sweeps the reader into another time. Interlaced with the unrequited love story is that of Elizabeth's relationship to her own mother, and her mother's story, also a compelling one. For me, what drove the novel was the sense of time and place, even more than the tale itself. Though the ending came a bit abruptly for me, it still rang true to the rest of the story.
All in all, when my own debut novel eventually makes an appearance, I hope it can carry the grace and dignity which this one does.