Thursday, August 15, 2013

Patsy Harman's Novel, "The Midwife of Hope River"

I just finished reading Patsy Harman's debut novel, "The Midwife of Hope River." The appearance of this book is especially exciting for me because I knew Patsy and many of her friends in the 1970s (including Tom Harman, Kenny Przybylski, Timmy Jenkins, Wendy Rawlins Tuck, and many others). Patsy has published two other outstanding books in the past few years. In 2009 she published "The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir." Then in 2012 she came out with "Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey." I loved "Arms Wide Open" because for me it was a kind of puzzle trying to figure out who was who (she disguised people's names and identities except for her and her husband Tom Harman). I think "Arms Wide Open" is a major contribution to the literature and history of the peace movement and the communitarian movement (Patsy and Tom established communities in Batavia, Ohio, and Spencer West Virginia; I lived in the Batavia house after the communards left; and I visited the Spencer community on two or three occasions).

"The Midwife of Hope River" is fictional, set in West Virginia of  1930 (with flashbacks to other times and places). But like all good fiction, the book is "truer than true." and taps into archetypal reality. You really care about the characters--Patience Murphy, Bitsy, the veterinarian Daniel, and the many women that Patience served as a midwife.

I am astonished at Patsy's skill as a writer. You can't help but wonder how such incredible talent emerged so late in life. I am reminded of a letter that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Walt Whitman:

"I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start." 

I don't know what Patsy's foreground was. Maybe it was writing letters or diary entries or journals. Whatever it was, it has prepared Patsy for an extraordinary career rather later in life than we normally see.

Hurray for Patsy Harman! Hurray for these wonderful books!

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