Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

photo: First edition hardcover, from its Wikipedia page

Very well-researched and captivating book about witches and healing, past and present.  The author wisely switches back and forth between the two, sometimes focusing more on one than the other, to create the feeling that the past influences the present, especially amongst families.  The author also manages to write about present-day witchery without the muddlesome, and mostly inaccurate, hocus-pocus that goes with it, making it seem more like Wicca than anything like the witches with broomsticks and dressed in black, such as those found in what we think of Salem or The Wizard of Oz.  This book's witches seem more like herbalists than spell-casters, and their witchery is always used for good.

The characters always seem real, especially the Danes of the past, and Connie of the present.  The author also manages to create real minor characters, which is no easy feat.  My favorites were Connie's mother and the elitist researcher who points Connie to Harvard's Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection.  His lines were priceless; I actually read them again out loud.  I have to admit that the antagonist is not much of a mystery.  You feel like knocking Connie upside the head for constantly being oblivious to the adversary's obvious meddling.  And it's obvious to me that the author has seen The Silence of the Lambs.  A character in that movie shares the exact same name, mannerisms and speech-patterns, and oily-slick aura and presentation, as his namesake in this book.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this book for me was its writing.  Sometimes it got a bit purple; in some passages, the author is trying way too hard.  But most of it is really good writing.  I was blown away by some small touches, such as how in one scene, Connie and Sam are talking, and we leave them, follow the dog for a couple of sentences as it walks away from them, then re-join them as the dog does, thereby showing the passage of a short amount of time.  Clever, without shocking us out of our suspension of disbelief.  There are a lot of small passages in there like that, and the writing is simply good, and exact, without bogging the reader down with so much specificity that it stops the story's progress. 

The reader does need to be interested in the mid- to late-1600s to enjoy the book, however; a healthy knowledge of The Crucible also helps, as part of the interest is to see what the author will do with the characters of that play, as well as the other real-life personages.  Overall, she remains true to them and to history, and so creates a captivating book that plops you more into the past than it does into the present--well, into the early 1990s, anyway.  I also guess that the book was placed in the early 1990s--rather than in 2009, when the book was actually published--because of the numerous scenes in which Connie talks to her mother on an actual phone.  I also suspect that too much present-day technology would be too jarring for us, especially since we want the author to return to the 1690s scenes, anyway.

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