Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And Speaking of Witches...

Well, okay, maybe we weren't speaking of witches, but hey, why not? I've been fascinated with witches since I was a little girl watching Bewitched. I used to practice wriggling my nose like Samantha (but I never did understand her relationship with Darren, or why he felt she couldn't be a witch) but on some sub-atomic level, being a witch also scared me. Were there really witches in the world? How much power did they have? And if I had that power, what would I do with it?
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe has a very clever premise...What if at least one of the women accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1992 really was a witch? My first thought was...well, why wouldn't a real witch have saved herself? Howe, herself descended from two accused women, answers that question very plausibly in this novel. Well written and well researched, this is a novel about witches, but it will most definitely make you question your perceptions. I do feel as though I was left hanging about a couple of minor issues (Arlo? Wherefore art thou now and why didn't Connie place an APB for you?), but I really enjoyed this one and can recommend it without reservation. Below is my Amazon review.
Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane takes the Salem Witch trials of 1692 and asks the question: What if at least one of the accused really was a witch? With that intriguing question, she brings us into the academic world of Connie Goodwin, a grad student at Harvard in 1991, whose doctoral thesis takes a back seat when her mother persuades her to clean out and sell her grandmother's house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Once she arrives at the abandoned house, Connie discovers an old key containing the name "Deliverance Dane" inside a family Bible, and with her curiosity piqued, she begins tracing an old "physick" book used by the accused witch. Along the way she encounters romance, an anxious and grumpy mentor, and a mystery that seems to grow the more she investigates.
Set mostly in 1991, Howe intersperses her story with chapters set in the past, giving illumination to what was going on before, during, and after the witch trials. Though the mystery is fairly easy to figure out, all of the characters are likeable and Connie's journey into the past is fascinating. I had an easy time imagining the settings, and the paranormal aspect comes out naturally through the course of Connie's work. There was a bit of a slow start, but once the story picked up, the pages flew by as I got caught up in the plot. Biggest complaint? Howe's need to have some of her characters speak phonetically to reinforce their New England accents, a totally unnecessary element that pulled me out of the story every single time it occurred. Still, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a well-researched, well-written glimpse into a What If? scenario that I doubt many of us in modern times had thought to ponder. Excellent reading!


Teddy Rose said...

I'm glad you like it Tammy! I have it waiting in my ARC pile to read.

Sarah said...

I agree completely - in fact I reviewed this for a library publication two weeks ago and said the exact same thing about the exaggerated New England accents. Our tastes really are pretty similar :) I also had a small bone to pick with the academic stereotyping, but enjoyed it a lot overall.