It is no surprise to anyone that I know personally, that Ami McKay’s book, “The Birth House” is hands down one of my favorite books of all time. For the last 5 years since its first publication, I have been hand selling it to friends, family and colleagues, because it’s just that good. Now I’m going to pitch it to all you, mostly because it ups the ante when it comes to great literature. This book is nominated for possibly gaining the 2011 Canada Read title in CBC’s yearly debate, so I reread the story and fell it love with it all over again.
This is the story of Dora Rare, a fitting name for a girl who is born into a household of brothers and little girls are out of the norm for the Rare family. Set in a time before World War I, her Father and Mother worry about young Dora, because she doesn’t necessarily act like a lady at times, she’s been known to get herself into some odd situations over the years. As she grows older, she strikes up a friendship with Miss. B, otherwise known as the town’s “midwife”/witch. No one knows too much about Miss. B, other than she is able to sense when babies are going to be born, she knows what to do when it comes to child-birth and has helped to deliver much of the population of Scot’s Bay, Nova Scotia.
Miss. B’s credibility gets called into play when Dr. Thomas comes into town pitching a new way of giving birth and introduces the young women of Scot’s Bay to the concept of a hospital and assisted machinery that will reduce the amount of pain and suffering they will feel in childbirth. Knowing that her herbs and remedies are anything but hocus pocus, Miss. B starts to teach Dora the rules about how to become a midwife and how to care for Mother and child during childbirth. Dora knows that Miss. B is an intelligent and wonderful healer and promises to keep up Miss B.’s traditions and practices after she’s gone.
However, when Archer Bigelow and family propose marriage, everyone expects Dora to put her midwife days behind her, including her future husband. After Miss. B is gone and it’s time for Dora to set up to the plate, she does just that and disregards her husband’s wishes. As her marriage begins to become a reality and her unhappiness sets in, Dora struggles to find her independence. She always had a voice when she was a midwife and people listened to her with intent, but now that she has “given it up” after much discussion and Dr. Thomas steps in, she struggles to find her balance. The town of Scot’s Bay also struggles about what is the right way to bring a new life into the world, the old trusted way or the new unknown way.
This story is a story of growth and independence, but also about women coming together to make decisions about their bodies and their families in a time when their opinions didn’t hold a lot of statue. The bond that is formed between Dora and the “out of towners” is heartfelt and sincere, especially after they form “The Occasional Knitters Society”. It’s an unforgetable tale of a town that struggles with the pull between old and new medicine and what ultimately ends up happening will leave you left with bated breath.
I highly recommend it to all of you for the simple fact that is great fiction that goes about and beyond anything I’ve read before.
Ami McKay’s novel “The Birth House” is currently in the running for CBC Canada Reads competition that will be taking place on February 7th, 8th and 9th.