Finding the Truth in Gretchen Moran Laskas’s The Midwife’s Tale

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Finding the Truth in Gretchen Moran Laskas’s The Midwife’s Tale The prologue to Gretchen Moran Laskas’s novel, The Midwife’s Tale, begins with her narrator protagonist, Elizabeth, telling readers, “Mama always said that most of being a good midwife was in knowing the family history. Not just the birthing story of any given woman--although that was a good thing to keep in mind--but the whole history.” Assuming the “whole history” is a thing possible to know in the first place, a dubious aim in itself, Moran Laskas’s novel ends up reading as a sort of family history: at times exultant, heartbreaking, occasionally comic, and more than once bone-chillingly grim. Beginning at the turn of the century and ending roughly forty years later as the Depression enters its last stages, Laskas’s novel follows the passions, failures, and triumphs of sometimes-midwife Elizabeth and the small group of mountain folk and family she shares her life with along the banks of Kettle Creek. Feeding her readers a painfully, if beautifully, detailed fare of the arduous lives endured by turn-of-the-century Appalachians, Moran Laskas serves up a novel that journeys between sorrow and triumph without ever indulging in sentimentality as her characters try to survive poverty, mountain life, a world war, an influenza epidemic, and the Depression. With image-rich descriptions of Appalachia’s natural landscape, Moran Laskas shares the stirring, at times comic, rural language of Elizabeth and the novel’s other midwives, Elizabeth’s mother and maternal grandmother, to construct a believable, if sometimes haunting world that periodically resembles a feminized utopia as much as it does an historical account of life in the mountains. Although Moran Laskas’s p... ... middle of paper ... ...being told may very well be something other than what appears to be real, consequently implying a possible difference between reality and truth. While Moran Laskas is probably not hinting at a postmodern spin on the unreality of knowingness or the ultimate absence of a universal “truth,” her novel does, nevertheless, suggest a kind of nebulous and unstable relationship between the reality we are initially dealt, the choices we make, and the arguable degree of control we have over our destiny. Using Appalachian folklore, consistently rich language, and a heroine who defies sympathy or sentimentality, The Midwife’s Tale generates for its readers a story of women who face and overcome physical and emotional hurdles that would otherwise cripple the strongest among many. Work cited Gretchen Moran Laskas, The Midwife’s Tale. New York, New York: The Dial Press, 2003.

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