How well do you know your closest friends? Do you know much about their professional pursuits? Do you know their quirks and eccentricities? More importantly, do you know the ways in which their quirks and eccentricities impact their daily lives and the way they function in the world? Do you know to what lengths your friends would go to protect you, care for you, ensure your happiness? Are you sure you know their limits?
Tara and Emerson have been best friends since they met as college freshman assigned to be dormitory roommates. Noelle, three years their senior, was the Resident Adviser on their floor. She introduced herself and then proceeded to ask many pointed questions of Emerson. So many, in fact, that after Noelle left their room that evening, she paused in the hallway outside their door. She could hear them giggling, and Tara whispered to Emerson that it was almost as though Noelle were in love with Emerson. It would be more than twenty years before Tara and Emerson would learn of or comprehend the depth of Noelle’s love for Emerson or why she cared so passionately about her happiness.
As the story begins, Noelle takes her own life by overdosing on pills she has been stockpiling for many years. Her suicide is a devastating shock to Tara and Emerson, neither of whom ever suspected that Noelle was despondent. Worse, Tara’s husband, Sam, an attorney, was killed just tenth months earlier in a motor vehicle accident caused by a high school girl — one of Tara’s own students — who was text-messaging as she drove. Tara and Emerson are surprised to learn that Sam drafted Noelle’s will in which she provided for her aging mother, but left seventy-five percent of her remaining assets to Jenny, Emerson’s daughter, and the other twenty-five percent to Grace, the only child of Tara and Sam. Tara is hurt, but has always sensed that Noelle cared more for Emerson and her family, even though she could never quite understand why.
Among friends, how much is too much to forgive?
Noelle had been living in a modest home owned by Emerson and her husband, Ted. In recent years, they hadn’t even charged her rent. Noelle, a midwife, never cared about money or possessions. Having never married or had children, she lived alone, but cared passionately about her babies project which benefited needy infants and their mothers, as well as her backyard garden. In fact, she left a suicide note in which she specifically requested that her garden be tended. As Tara and Emerson sort through Noelle’s belongings, they are determined to find the answer to the question that haunts both of them: Why would Noelle suddenly end her own life?
Noelle kept painstakingly detailed records of every birth she attended. Emerson also finds a large, disorganized box of papers — notes of thanks from women whose babies Noelle delivered, hard copies of emails, etc. She discovers a letter to a woman named Anna that Noelle began composing in 2003. Noelle wrote: “What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I’m so sorry . . . ”
What secrets was Noelle keeping from her two best friends? Will they discover what prompted Noelle to commit suicide? And how will what they discover change not only their lives, but the lives of their daughters, as well as that of the woman, Anna, to whom Noelle began, but never finished confessing?
Each chapter of The Midwife’s Confession is told from the first-person perspective of a different character, with the exception of those devoted to Noelle, which are presented in a third-person narrative format. It is a highly effective technique because in the very first chapter Noelle kills herself. Thus, the story unfolds from the unique vantage point of each living character, Noelle’s back story being the lone exception because, of course, she is no longer among them. Noell’s story jumps from the day of her death back to the early 1980’s and gradually progresses to 1994, as the events of her life are revealed.
Noelle wanted to be a midwife from the time she first accompanied her mother to deliver a child. Although her mother was unlicensed, she was known throughout the region and regularly assisted women by “catching” their babies. Noelle’s father and mother were divorced, and her father remarried the woman with whom he had an affair. Her mother impressed upon Noelle that she must never hurt another woman the way her stepmother, Doreen, had hurt Noelle’s mother. Noelle’s mother harbored secrets of her own, opting to reveal one of them on that night when Noelle witnessed a birth for the first time. Noelle only learned the rest of the story accidentally years later as she was heading off to college.
It’s a story of friendship and the corrosive power of secrets. It’s the story of mothers and daughters and the relationship storms that test the bonds between them.~ Author Diane Chamberlain
The plot of The Midwife’s Confession revolves completely around Noelle’s actions, and the way Noelle’s behavior affected those she loved. Noelle’s bad choices — along with some noble ones — have impacted the lives of her beloved friends, Tara and Emerson, in ways that neither woman even suspects. In the hands of a less-skilled author, Noelle’s departure in the first chapter could have proven disastrous to the development of the plot and believability of the characters. But Noelle is a fully developed, complex, and tragically flawed woman whose numerous secrets, revealed at expertly-timed intervals, compel the story forward at a sometimes dizzying, but always controlled pace.
Like ocean waves crashing violently on the shore, Noelle’s numerous secrets are revealed — and they are shockers. Just when it seems that Noelle’s past cannot possibly hold any more surprises, Chamberlain unveils one more aspect of Noelle’s life that brings into question what the characters have figured out up to that point, along with readers’ conclusions. Because each of the female characters is sympathetic in her own right, each new plot twist pulls readers deeper into their psyches and makes their emotional reactions increasingly palpable and relatable.
Tara has felt lost and adrift since losing Sam. Her grief is numbing because their marriage was a happy one, and their life with their only daughter, Grace — delivered at home by Noelle — fulfilling. Tara, a high school drama teacher, has felt particularly disconnected from Grace since Sam’s death, unable to reach her. Grace is a planner, an organizer, whose home is immaculate. Tara and Grace are so different, it is as though they do not share the same DNA, while Sam and Grace had common interests and an easy communication style that, no matter how hard she tries, Tara simply cannot replicate. She is worried that she is losing her daughter, whose unhappiness deepened when her boyfriend broke up with her just as he was leaving for college. Grace feels smothered by her mother and is having a difficult time in the aftermath of her father’s tragic death. She is troubled by her mother’s efforts to move forward with her life, and resents the changes Tara has made such as giving Sam’s clothing to charity.
Emerson recently opened a new cafe and the business is thriving, while her husband, Ted, is a realtor. Unlike Grace, Emerson is more interested in being popular and well-liked than in being successful. Their only daughter, Jenny, is outgoing and popular, and Grace’s best friend. Unlike Grace, Jenny was not delivered by Noelle. Emerson gave birth via C-section in the local hospital — ironically, while Tara was being tended at home by Noelle as she delivered Grace. Noelle told both women that she never made it to the hospital to visit Emerson that night. She said that she was too tired and went straight home to sleep after Tara’s difficult labor and delivery. Emerson is determined to find out what drove Noelle to end her life, but will she be sorry if she learns the truth?
Meanwhile, Anna Knightly had been living in her own hell. Her infant daughter, Lily, disappeared a couple of days after being born in the same hospital as Jenny. Anna suffered a post-natal stroke and slipped into a coma. Her husband, Bryan, was deployed to Somalia and attempting to get home to be with his wife and newborn daughter. Tragically, Lily was never found, but Anna and Bryan had another daughter, Haley, three years later. Sadly, Haley was diagnosed with leukemia and Bryan left because he could not face the prospect of losing another daughter. However, with Haley’s recent relapse, he has returned, and vowed to stay this time, whatever the outcome. A former pharmaceutical sales representative, Anna has channeled her sorrow into a career as the director of a national missing children’s organization.
“It must have been so lonely, being Noelle,” Sam’s former law partner, Ian, who was once engaged to Noelle, observes. Indeed, keeping secrets took the ultimate toll on Noelle. Chamberlain explores not only how the events that Noelle could not share with anyone else impacted her life, but also how those events informed and drove the choices she made. Did Noelle act out of love or selfishness? Did Noelle truly want only the best for her friends or was she consumed by her personal needs?
Chamberlain says that “enduring, life-long friendship is a strong theme in the book — the sort of friendship that, if we don’t have one, we wish we did.” Through The Midwife’s Confession, Chamberlain asks readers to ponder their own friendships, and the truths upon which those relationships are based. If secrets such as those explored in The Midwife’s Confession were revealed, would your friendship survive? Can deception be forgiven or does it invalidate a friendship? Does the motivation for keeping secrets matter? Is it possible for a friend’s lies, motivated by love and a desire to ensure one’s happiness, to be blessings in disguise? By the end of The Midwife’s Confession, Tara, Emerson, and Anna have considered and answered those questions for themselves, as have their daughters. Their journey is an engrossing exploration of the fragile but enduring ties that bind women’s friendships together. I highly recommend The Midwife’s Confession.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of The Midwife’s Confession free of charge from the author in conjunction with Media Muscle book campaigns. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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