I read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe on vacation a few weeks ago. It was a really interesting read and I definitely recommend it...here is why:
Connie Goodwin is completing her doctorate at Harvard, and during orals on American Colonial history her advisor asks her a question on witchcraft. She nearly panics as she digs through her mental files, but is able to find the necessary information and in passing her oral exam she also finds the topic for her dissertation. Her advisor Professor Chilton encourages her to find a new primary source on a topic that is centuries old.
In the midst of her frantic studies Connie's "hippie" mother insists that she heads out to Marblehead, just outside of Salem Massachusetts to go through her grandmother's old house in order to sell it. Although incredibly busy with trying to discover a new source, Connie finds herself complying with her mother's poorly timed request. While cleaning out a bookshelf Connie comes across a bible with a key that falls out and slip of paper with the name Deliverance Dane protruding from the tip. On a shelf she finds old empty bottles, herbs, and recipe cards that when she reads them, strange things happen...almost like casting a spell.
Intertwined with Connie's story is that of Deliverence Dane in the mid 1700 and her recipe book for curing ailments-her "physick" book. As a healer and midwife, Deliverance faces scrutiny in her community when a young girl in her care passes away and accusations of witchcraft result in her imprisonment-an accusation which Deliverence accepts readily, because she is a witch.
Connie searches through the historical archives to find Deliverence and her descendants to find a mention of her physick book...which may turn out to be her much sought after primary source. In her search she meets Sam, a steeplejack in Marblehead, who she begins to have feelings for, who suddenly becomes deathly ill. As Connie delves into her research and her family's history, Professor Chilton begins acting strange, putting incredible pressure on her to come up with a fresh new source on witchcraft and Connie is beginning to wonder how all these pieces fit together...
Whenever I have read about witchcraft in the US, England, or Europe, the consensus has always been that these women were poor, or widows, outcasts in the community who were scapegoats, not witches. In The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Howe suggests that there were in fact witches, women who were attempting to cure the sick, not putting curses on neighbours or animals. Intriguing concept!!!
I liked Howe's writing-I found the two different stories complimented each other and helped to move the novel forward, building anticipation and keeping my interest throughout. I definitely recommend this book!!