Saturday, March 19, 2011

History, Scholarship, and Majick

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe,
read by Katherine Kellgren

Connie is a harried grad student in the final push to earn her PhD.  She is beset by an oomi-goomi new age mother who wants her to take the summer to sell her grandmother's house on one side and an academic advisor on the other side who believes he deserves far more from life in general than he has yet receiveded. 
Into this plot mix, add the search for a diary left behind behind by a woman convicted as a witch in Salem.  Stir in a handsome young man in danger and bring it all to a boil with Connie's discovery that she herself may have deeper connections to the past than she ever imagined. Taken all together, it makes a pretty good story.

This book moves easily between that awful time in American history when the witch scare turned neighbor against neighbor in a nasty mix of religious fervor, fear, and greed and the world of modern academics where students sometimes have to protect their work from from advisers all too willing and eager to claim undue credit for a student's work.

Part of what I enjoyed about this story is the use of flashbacks to follow not only Deliverance herself, but her daughters and granddaughters and even great granddaughters.  It provides some insight about how life must have been for the families of the condemned and the pall of guilt that lingered with them long after the events.

I was not particularly bothered by some unevenness in the writing or a bit of triteness in the plot.  For example, it is nearly a genre requirement that Connie should discover - and only most reluctantly accept - her own special gifts.  And, of course, you need someone to be in serious jeopardy to create a little tension.  Who better than the perfect boyfriend?  The poor schmuck was doomed from the first meeting. I have always been interested in the Salem witch trials and the European witch madness as well.  I am sure that part of the appeal of this book was learning that the author is herself descended from two convicted witches.  Her bio identifies them as "Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem witch trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not."

On that chilling note, I recommend this book to you and look forward to more from this author. 

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1 comment:

  1. The story is very captivating - I could not put it down. I love historical fiction and have always been interested in the Salem Witch Trials, ever since I was in junior high school (which was around 1969) and I read the book Tituba of Salem Village by Ann Petry. The historical facts of this book seem much more accurate but that may be because so much more is known about this period in history now. I love the way this story goes back and forth between modern times.