Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Book review: The Birth House (Ami McKay)

I honestly thought I'd love this book. I found a review online that made it sound good, and hey, it is about a midwife! And birth! And babies! It'll be great!

It wasn't great. Truly, it was awful.

The story is set in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia during World War II. Scots Bay is a backwoods little town with little to no technology. All births, of course, are attended by a midwife, until a doctor comes to town, armed with the very latest scientific knowledge (all women get hysteria! all complaints of pregnancy are because of hysteria!) and opens a Mother's Clinic. The basic story is the struggle between the old ways (good) and the new (bad), although this is played out in a variety of characters and ways.

The book is actually quite well-written - it is a well-crafted story with interesting characters and lots of fascinating period detail. Which is why it took me a few hours of thinking after I'd finished it to realize why I was so unhappy with it.

One thing is that there was just too much sex in it - not beautiful loving sex but yucky amoral domination sort of sex. I understand why the author included it, but I don't have to like reading about it. However, this problem paled in comparison to my primary issue with the book: it wasn't written as just a story, it was written as a feminist rant. The sort of "all men are rotten b*stards", and "women are inherently good, beautiful, spiritualist creatures and look at how they bend over backwards for you piggish males" sort of rant. Part way through the book I found myself feeling upset with my own husband - for no reason whatsoever! I had been immersing myself in a poisonous point of view, and it didn't take very long to affect my emotions in a very negative manner.

Lastly, I was horrified and saddened by the midwives' perspective on unborn babies - they both were willing to cause abortions, in the name of caring for the mother. I believe one quote was "a mother knows if she hasn't any more love to give." Making it worse was the fact that this was all done in the name of Jesus and "Mother Mary".

Superstition abounds and is mixed tightly with Catholic faith in their view of the world. I was left wondering if the story was simply a construct of an anti-faith anti-male anti-children author, or if it was an historically accurate picture of life in a backwater village of the time. I wish that I knew of a book that could give a different (more balanced?) view of the same time period.

All that to say: please don't read it. You don't want to, I promise.

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