A Place Called Trinity
I find stories of spiritual discovery and renewal of any faith appealing. Moreover, I really like well done historical novels, romance or otherwise, especially those featuring more common folk as opposed to the elite classes usually shown. Thus I requested to review A Place Called Trinity by Delia Parr, which tells the story of middle-aged midwife Martha Cade. Martha learned her trade from her grandmother and practices much the same way, with a combination of herbal remedies and folk wisdom. She has delivered the babies in her small town of Trinity and the surrounding areas for years.
But suddenly things are changing in Martha’s life. While she is several towns away spending more time than she meant to on a difficult delivery, her teenage daughter Victoria up and runs off with a passing theatrical troupe. Martha spends more than three months tracking her daughter, with no success. When she returns to Trinity, a small town in Pennsylvania, she finds more changes occurring. There’s a new doctor in town, a university-educated one, and while she’s been gone he has made inroads into her clientele. Another newcomer to the community is a rather odd reverend with his gaggle of orphan boys. As valuables have started disappearing around town at the same time, the boys come under xenophobic suspicion from the townspeople.
Parr weaves a myriad of plot threads into the story. In addition to those already mentioned, there is the matter of a missing watch, which one villager has blamed on another; that other villager is a fugitive from the law. This has embittered his wife Rosalind, who has to remain in the village as the object of scrutiny and criticism from the other townspeople, and who rebuffs all of Martha’s attempts to renew their previous friendship. Then there is Martha’s ongoing internal struggle with her faith and her calling and her feelings of defeat and failure as mother to Victoria. And in all of this, there is the potential rebirth of feelings between Martha and her first love, Thomas, both of whom are now widowed.
Unfortunately, half these plotlines meander along to nowhere; readers looking for romance will be particularly disappointed. The door is obviously left open for a sequel or even a series of sequels, but it does not leave A Place Called Trinity standing particularly well on its own. Of the threads that are resolved in this book, they are often resolved abruptly and predictably. For example, anyone who has ever seen an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman can guess how the conflict between the Olden Ways represented by Martha, and the New-Fangled Ways, represented by the new doctor, will turn out.
I was not particularly taken with the town of Trinity, either. What Martha repeatedly cites as its virtues – a small town set apart from the evil ways of the big city, where folks can raise their families and practice their beliefs in peace – feels rather smug and suffocating to me. And Trinity seems to hold much of what I dislike about small town settings, including people who are suspicious and distrustful of outsiders, quick to judge each other, and full of gossip. Even Martha can be pretty sanctimonious, despite her constant pauses to utter quick prayers for patience and wisdom.
There were aspects I did like. The historical details of small town early American life are rich and feel quite accurate. Market days, church services, the ins and outs of running a tavern, and of course, the details of childbirth and midwifery are all portrayed, as are more dramatic occurrences like the horror of a house fire when there are no fire hydrants and high pressure hoses nearby. The author has also taken a very real conflict of the time – the growth of the professions like medicine and law as professional disciplines, and how the increasing trend toward higher education and licensing crowded out those who had trained through apprenticeship or self-teaching.
Nevertheless, I found much of A Place Called Trinity something of a chore to read. Despite intermittent drama that had me turning pages a bit faster, much of the book plods along so slowly and the narrative is so trapped within Martha’s own constant assessments and doubts that I had a hard time maintaining my interest. Trinity may be a place that other readers are eager to visit and even re-visit, but I don’t think I’ll be returning there anytime soon.