After a summer trip to New England to research my own bewitching Salem roots, I was happy to borrow a copy of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and see what the author, Katherine Howe, brought to the endlessly fascinating and heartbreaking history of the Salem, MA witch hysteria in 1692.
It is a first novel, and the author already has a facebook presence, so she probably means to continue writing, which is a good thing. There are some very enjoyable aspects to the story, especially the budding romance the protagonist Connie has with a handsome, punky steeplejack named Sam. The setting of Connie’s grandmother’s house in Marblehead, MA was also well-drawn, as were some of the glimpses into the past of divers women in Salem. So, there is quite a bit to enjoy.
I did however have a few quibbles . . . there is an inconsistent attempt to phonetically spell out the New England accent, which became annoying at times and got in the way of the story. I was also a bit skeptical that Connie, a circa 1991 Harvard grad student, at times seemd to have no insight into her surroundings-animal, vegetable or mineral, which make up the plot-most of which is fairly obvious, at least to this reader, as soon as Connie steps into her grandmother’s house. I was hoping for a bit more joy of discovery on her part. But, as I said, I quibble. It’s still a fun read, and it screams movie adaptation, as most of those little things I mentioned could be tightened up in a sharp screenplay. Or maybe they wouldn’t bother others.
The book is a fun glimpse not only into the past, but into our society just under twenty years ago, before cell phones and the internet made a lot of Connie’s isolation and running around looking for clues unnecessary. Some generations take huge shifts to change, if at all, while other changes can come quickly, in under a quarter of a century. My own ancestor, Sarah Averill Wildes, was among the first hanged on July 19, 1692. By just a few months later the trials had ended and the worst of the hysteria was over.
I do agree with Connie on the book’s most important points. Sam is an attractive character and human history is always incredibly fascinating.