I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

This book opens up in 1681, Salem, Massachusetts, with Deliverance Dane, a cunning woman, being sent to the sick bed of a man's only child, a daughter, who is dying.  His wife has just died a few months ago and now, even though she tries, Deliverance cannot save her.  He accuses her of witchcraft and she goes to court and clears her name.  Fast forward to 1991, and we meet Connie, who is taking her qualifying exams in order to begin her dissertation to get her Ph.D. at Harvard.  Her roommate Liz is in Latin studies, and she has a dog that has adopted her, named Arlo.  Connie's mother is a hippie who hasn't changed any since the sixties and lives in New Mexico reading people's auras.  Connie rebelled by being the exact opposite of her mother: a rule follower and excelling student who stays grounded in the real world.

As Connie's advisor, Chilton, pushes her to come up with a topic for her dissertation, because he sees her as being one of his best students, her mother asks her to go to Marblehead to fix up her mother's house, which has remained empty for twenty years, since Connie's grandmother died.  Grace, Connie's mother, has failed to ever pay taxes on the house, and now it must be sold.  There is no electricity, which means no lights, no phones, no a/c, and no refrigerator, but an ancient icebox instead.  When Connie explores the library and opens her grandmother's bible, an old piece of paper falls out with the name Deliverance Dane on it.  After searching the archives in Marblehead, she heads to Salem, where the oldest church records are kept.  There she meets the handsome steeplejack and restorer, Sam, who is just as fascinated about history as she is and helps her go through the records.  About to give up, they finally look at the catalog of those who were excommunicated from the church and there they find Deliverance's name.  This can only mean one thing: she was accused of being a witch.

When she goes to look into Deliverance's will, she finds the listing of a book and surmises that this just might be a spell book (or physic book or shadow book).  She left it all to her daughter, Mercy, who would move to Marblehead and eventually try to sue the courts to get her mother's name cleared, as those others who had been accused of witchcraft and killed had been cleared.

Professor Chilton is extremely interested in this new development in Connie's research and is encouraging her to find this book. An original source of this kind (a spell book has never been found in North America) would be invaluable and a coup.  He offers to share a panel with him at the upcoming Colonial American studies conference.  It would be a huge advancement in her academic career.

As the book travels back and forth through time, telling the story of Deliverance and her descendants, and Connie, who is noticing some strange things going on, such as seeing visions of the grandparents she never met and a burnt circle with words and symbols in it suddenly on her front door. Is it meant to scare her off and cause harm?  It also explores the changing relationship between Connie and her mother, and Sam, a man she has come to really care about.  But when the hunt to find the book gets closer, things begin to go horribly wrong, and Connie begins to question everything she believes in.

This is a wonderful book and a unique one from the others that talk about witches or the Salem witches, in that it proposes that there is one woman, not known to historians, is an actual witch that comes with its costs, such as pain doing spells and the death of those they care about.  The romance between Connie and Sam is so sweet.  It also shows the rigors of trying to get a dissertation done for your Ph.D. and how history affects us even today.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Physick-Book-Deliverance-Dane/dp/1401341330/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477485107&sr=8-1&keywords=the+physick+book+of+deliverance+dane

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