The Frozen River
Grade : A

Ariel Lawhon's latest work is my favorite book of 2023. This whopper of a novel delicately peels back the layers of history to reveal the intricate struggles and enduring resilience of women in post Revolutionary War 18th-century America. Through the eyes of Martha Ballard, a local midwife and guardian of the town's hidden stories, Lawhon brilliantly illuminates the profound absence of women's rights in the burgeoning American legal landscape, all without resorting to heavy-handed messaging.

Lawhon's novel tells the story of a year in real life heroine Martha Ballard, a woman whose life story has been told by many. Ballard was a midwife in rural Maine when women were still limited by the laws of coverture. Ballard's role gave her unusual power--she was able to testify about her patients in court and, unlike the vast majority of her peers, she was literate. Beginning in her 50th year, she began to keep a daily diary. She was a meticulous recorder of facts rather than emotions--she chronicled almost two decades of births, deaths, and lives.

In Frozen River, Lawhon explores--based on history--an actual murder. In the first chapter, a gruesome discovery within the frozen river shakes the tranquility of her town. At the same time, Martha is a witness in a rape trial--her patient, the victim, has accused one of the town's most powerful men. Martha's unwavering pursuit for answers drives her to uncover the truth about both crimes--and as advocate for vulnerable women, she won't rest until she unravels the enigmas within.

The novel, inspired by the authentic diaries of Martha Ballard, provides a captivating glimpse into the mundane existence of a post-Revolutionary American village. It grants readers a rare and detailed view of women's lives during the era, a perspective often overlooked by history due to barriers of literacy and the cost of written communication.

Lawhon's narrative, intertwined with a small-town mystery and a diverse cast of characters, is a profound exploration of love, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of justice. Ephraim, Martha's unwavering husband, serves as her emotional anchor through the tumultuous storms of life and death. Theirs is a love story for the literal ages and its exploration gives the novel a warmth and joy that balances out the darkness the novel often invokes.

This meticulously crafted narrative flows seamlessly, akin to the pages of a time-worn diary, offers readers a captivating blend of historical fiction, mystery, and romance. Its austere tone authentically mirrors the harsh winters and lingering Puritanical ideals of the era, immersing readers in a captivating world of bygone days.

Whether your passion lies in unraveling mysteries, immersing yourself in historical fiction, savoring love stories, or savoring the beauty of masterfully composed prose, this inspiring book offers an riveting reading experience.

Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan
Grade : A

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : December 5, 2023

Publication Date: 12/2025

Review Tags: midwife

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  1. “What follows next is the Forced Seduction scene. Sigh! I had heard these were popular in romance novels written in…

Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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