A Dystopian Novel for Right Now

It’s the near future, and Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Just dumped by her girlfriend, retired California nurse-midwife Mollie O’Shay travels to Virginia to volunteer at an underground abortion clinic. She is met at the airport by one of the collective members who drives straight to the clinic, explaining, “The clock’s ticking.” 

“The two existing clinics in Richmond that performed abortions had shut their doors abruptly,” Mollie says. “The patients waiting for me probably had appointments scheduled for weeks. I was their last hope….” Thus begins the setup for The Midwife’s in Town [Salted Rose Press, $13.79], a fictional thriller that arrived on shelves mere weeks before the actual leak of a SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

In addition to desperate patients, welcoming Mollie to Richmond are her new sisters, the women of the Options for Women Life Situations (OWLS) collective, a diverse mix of feminists including ex-nuns, NOW leaders, academics, and clergy. Also waiting for her are a new girlfriend, misogynist law enforcement agents dedicated to enforcing the punitive new laws, and federal agents investigating a long-buried secret in Mollie’s past.

Author Jessica Kate Raphael is a Seattle-based writer, activist, and radio producer. She is also a former board member and volunteer at ACCESS Women’s Health Justice and San Francisco Women Against Rape. She has a knack for combining politics with mysteries: her previous two books, Murder Under the Bridge: A Palestine Mystery and its sequel, Murder Under the Fig Tree, have received numerous indie awards. 

The Midwife’s in Town benefits from Raphael’s talent for tight plotting, taut prose, and fast pacing. The story is told with an admirable mix of humor, big-picture political savvy, and clear respect for the personal risks taken by the women in the collective and the women seeking care.

This novel follows in the esteemed feminist footsteps of both Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke, and joins the more recent novels about abortion rights like Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. 

The Midwife’s in Town brings the abortion narrative full circle. Raphael references the vast army of underground pre-Roe v Wade abortion counselors, enablers, and providers, honoring their work and the risks they faced. Then she imagines how that history might play out in a post-Roe nation, with current technologies, insecurities, and cultural mores. The result is part political playbook, part nightmare, and part deep homage to the power of feminists to organize and get things done. 

Ellen Meeropol is the author of four novels, most recently Her Sister’s Tattoo, and the play Gridlock.