Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Featuring Sandra Dallas and Richard Wagamese

By Lynn Willoughby

The Last Midwife ~ Sandra Dallas

Historical fiction, well written, is my favourite read and Dallas never lets me down. Her books are easy but filled with information and always have a twist I don’t see coming.

This novel is centered around Gracy Brookens, a midwife in the 19th century in a Colorado mining area known as Tennith. It is the story of Gracy’s life as a respected midwife and her love for women and babies. As layers of her life are exposed, we learn how she will help any women during childbirth, she never judges, and she hold many secrets from those intimate moments she shares with the women – including abuse, incest, which men frequent prostitutes, poverty, disease.

About half of this novel centers on Gracy’s trial. She has been accused of murdering a newborn. “The hearing must have cleared out the saloons because a woman likely to be charged with murder was a sight more interesting than even a drunken fight.”

The town is divided – mostly between women who support Gracy against those who believe all the evidence is pointing to Gracy as the murderer.

Characterization is something I really appreciate in Dallas’ writing. There is no paging back and forth to try to remember who’s who. Here we have wealthy mine owners, the sheriff, Gracy’s husband and estranged son, but mostly it is a story of women – in childbirth, while quilting or gossiping. We see what life was like for this half of the population – the abused, the prostitutes, the feeble minded, the old and the young. By the end of the book I felt like I knew them all.

  • A Quilt For Christmas
  • The Chile Queen

…………and several others

Ragged Company ~ Richard Wagamese

What to say about this novel – except WOW! I have enjoyed everything I have read by Wagamese but this is by far his best work plus the story itself is outstanding. I have been recommending it to everyone I know.

As the book begins, we are introduced to four homeless people – those same nameless, faceless, invisible bodies we have all seen in any urban setting. We know nothing about our protagonists – not their names, their ages, their histories, or where they are living. We soon come to realize one is female, the others male. What is their bond? What drives them each day? We know one begs for money, one is a dumpster diver, two collect bottles and cans to return for money. The goal each day is to make enough money to buy tobacco and a mickey of alcohol before noon. They eat their one meal a day at the Mission.

One bitterly cold winter day they cobble their coins together. Yes! They have enough to go into a movie theatre for the matinee to get out of the cold.

They come to realize they love the movies – the warmth, the darkness, the chance to have a slug from their mickey with no judgments. Eventually they meet Granite in the theatre. He is a jaded and lonely ex-journalist who has turned his back on his world by escaping to the movies. An unlikely friendship of sorts is struck, and their lives will be forever changed.

A found cigarette package – still containing some smokes! also with three $20 bills! plus a lottery ticket, will make this ragged foursome rich. Not just better off – but $13.5 million rich!! However there is a snag. In order to claim the money they need proper identification, which none of them have had for years.

They continue to go to movies, hoping to run into Granite again, as they realize he can help them. They have no way to contact him, but eventually they meet again and so begins their shared journey and what it means to have a home.

The tension in this book is incredibly high. While reading, I kept thinking it is not going to end well. Wagamese kept me on the edge of my seat with the histories of “the ragged band, ” their ideas of “home”, what community means, their spirituality, their lives before.

He uses all four voices to tell this story, plus Granite’s to braid it together. This gives us a variety of viewpoints and helps us become familiar with each of the protagonists, and see each one as a person.

We find out how they come to be where they are and how each one deals with his past. “We all have other lives. We all have lives we lived before we became what we became…and things that made it hard to be what we became.” Probably this could be said of all of us, but it is just not as dramatic.

This is a marvelous story told by a master. It is a moving and emotional read by a truly great Canadian writer. DO NOT miss it!

  • Medicine Walk
  • Indian Horse

……..and several others

Who Knew?

The first Ferris wheel made its debut at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There is still a wheel operating at Navy Pier in Chicago year around.

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