The Midwife’s Confession
by Diane Chamberlain
(Mira, $15.95, PG) ISBN 978-0-7783-2986-2
Looking back at the five Diane Chamberlain books I have reviewed for The Romance Reader, the word that appears most often is “somber,” and I just might have to use that adjective again in my assessment of her latest release. Chamberlain writes serious Women’s Fiction in a similar vein as Jodi Picoult’s entire canon and Barbara Delinsky’s more recent novels. The Midwife’s Confession explores the relationships among mothers , daughters, sisters and friends, through a plot that has so many twists and turns you may need a flow chart to keep track of it all.

The book opens with a suicide. Tara Vincent and Emerson McGarrity are shocked when they learn that their friend Noelle Downie has taken her own life. Noelle was a well-respected midwife who had recently established a program for special needs babies. Why didn’t she tell her two best friends that she was troubled, and what could have triggered such a devastating decision for a woman whose very career celebrated life? Tara, whose husband Sam was killed in a car accident only seven months ago, is especially distraught over this new loss. Her relationship with her teenaged daughter Grace has been strained since Sam’s death, and Grace only withdraws further after she learns about Noelle.

When Emerson and Tara clean out Noelle’s house, they discover a letter she started to write to a woman identified only as Anna, apologizing for an unforgiveable action she took years ago. If the women were shocked by Noelle’s death, they are even more horrified by what they discover about her life. Their search for Anna and the truth about Noelle’s past uncovers secrets that will strike much closer to home than they ever could have imagined.

To reveal more of the plot would be a disservice to prospective readers. I’ll just say you’ll find infidelity, terminal illness, teenage sex, substance abuse and more as the plot develops. The intricate mother-daughter bond is explored and tested in its many facets and will ring especially true for anyone who has ever parented a teenaged girl. The novel also examines redemption and forgiveness, and poses the question of whether you can ever do enough penance to make up for a momentary lapse that caused a tragedy.

The story is told from the viewpoint of five different female characters, including flashbacks to Noelle’s complicated past, so it’s difficult to feel a deep connection to any one of the women. I found myself turning pages quickly but with a sense of disbelief as the secrets became so convoluted they wouldn’t have felt out of place in a soap opera. The Midwife’s Confession is definitely not a feel-good read, but if you are okay with a somber “issue” novel you may find it rewarding.

--Susan Scribner

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