**spoiler alert** Our Book Club selection for August, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, was not a disappointment. I can't rememb**spoiler alert** Our Book Club selection for August, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, was not a disappointment. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book. Probably the last time I had my nose in the pages of Harry Potter. There's nothing like a magical adventure to keep your eyes on the words and head in the story. I particularly love historical fiction, so this was a treat in more than one way. I especially love the colonial time period of history, and this book is about the Salem Witch Trials, which happened during that time period.
This book is historical fiction, light mystery, fantasy (magic), and a slight bit of women's studies all wrapped up in one. If one gets nothing else from this book, at least women will be thankful for the leaps and bounds we have made in terms of citizenship and protection. And we can all be thankful for how far we've come from the time period in general; when a hunch or suspicion, and nothing more, could bring man or woman to death. It was a grave reminder that we human beings have made too many mistakes in our history about deciding what's right and wrong to be trusted with each other's lives. Even as recent as 50 years ago; it is said that Arthur Miller used the Witch Trials in his famous play, The Crucible, in response to McCarthyism of the 1950's. And there are more than plenty examples of our dangerous judgement even today.
One of the reasons I am fascinated by history (and I am... those who know me, know that I can get a little carried away with history, by the fact that we can walk the same ground or even touch the same railings as those who've passed hundreds or thousands of years before us) is so wonderfully explained on page 76,
"'It's weird, isn't it... That you can have this whole entire life, with all your opinions, your loves, your fears. Eventually those parts of you disappear. And then the people who could remember those parts of you disappear, and before long all that's left is your name in some ledger. This Marcy person -- she had a favorite food. She had friends and people she disliked. We don't even know how she died.'"
Connie ends up replying to Sam (who said the above passage), telling him that part of the reason she loves history is so that people can be remembered. That they can have immortality. That is what authors do when they write fiction like this. They capture our attention and we end up wanting to know more. So, we find out more -- about the people, the time period, the place. In essence, they are helping to make these stories immortal. And Howe weaves facts and fiction together seamlessly so that the reader can enjoy the story and form an attachment to it rather than feel as if they're getting a history lesson.
Although I found myself taking breaks while reading this to make it last longer, there are parts that have kept it from getting five coconuts from me. The villain, Professor Chilton, was more confusing and melodramatic than scary, in my opinion. In fact, I think he could have been left out of the story completely. I would have rather Howe found a different way of causing Sam's sickness, while still keeping the need for Connie to find the book and recover the recipe to make him well. And while I, at first, had fun with the phonetics of the Bostonians, past and present, it became a bit much by the end. Lastly, and this is a complaint that I may be the only one to raise; Howe (or her editor) was a serious fan of the word "presently" and I started to cringe when I would see it on the page.
However, this book does a good job of entertaining and stimulating the reader. Whether the author meant it to be a brain-twisting puzzler, I don't know. Though the reviews I read of people being upset that it's not, surprise me. It is doubtful to me that this highly educated author wouldn't realize that she had given out enough information along the way for the reader to be figuring out the pieces to the puzzle just as fast as the protagonist. There are enough other elements to this story to convince me that it was never meant to be shelved with the detective books at the bookstore.
Howe presents not just a riddle, but a novel of relationships, fantasy, history, and the bonds of lineage. Specifically the scene of the hangings was quite moving. In my experience, the ties that bind a close family relationship can be tighter than many. This author, through the sequence of events where Mercy witnesses the death of her mother, takes a piece of history that we, in modern times, feel so distant from and brings it to life, while bringing us to tears. I blubbered my way through that last Interlude. I cannot imagine being Mercy, or any of the real daughters -- or other family members for that matter -- of the accused. Standing by, watching the unspeakable happen when you know not only how devastatingly unjust but ridiculous it is, yet living in a world where those terms (especially from you, a young woman) would never be heard. The author's prose in those last pages of 1692 were the best of the entire book.
***End of Spoiler***
This book was highly entertaining, and absorbing. I hope Katherine Howe (who's own relatives, by the way, were accused in the trials) continues with historical fiction and hones her ability to combine her knowledge and creativity in future works.