Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Katherine Howe - The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

A spellbinding, beautifully written novel that moves between contemporary times and one of the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history--the Salem witch trials.
Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest--to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.
As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.
Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman's story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation.

Comment: My last read of 2022.

I had this book in the pile for a while and decided to read it in December, thankfully it was still possible before the year was over!

In this story, released in 2009, we have the tale of Connie Goodwin, a young PhD candidate in Harvard who discovers her late grandmother left her a house and while checking it, she discovers something strange, a key in a Bible and a name. At the same time, Connie who is becoming an expert on colonial America, has to think of a theme for her dissertation and the possibility what she finds in the house can help her pick a wonderful idea is everything. Her advisor also seems too eager for her to find a secret book which might hold the key to mysteries century old but can Connie really work knowing too much is at stake? When weird things start happening to her, can Connie maintain her scientific focus?

I probably was checking lists with books or with witches or with university students because I can't remember exactly why this was in the pile. The book is publicized using the Salem witches connection, since part of the content is related to that period in time and specific events, but I'll confess I'm not particularly interested in the theme. I've seen that famous movie with Winona Ryder and other books which certainly had the subject, but apart from that I've stayed away.

I think the theme fascinating, that's not it that puts me off, but the fact it will necessarily mention the "witches" killed because of ignorance, mentality of the time and what is to me, a tremendously unfair situation, in which teenagers were mean and behaved as if they were more clever than anyone else. Thankfully, this book is quite low key on scenes from the past and the small passages with historical content, despite being as close to reality as historical registers seem to indicate (the author includes notes at the end about her research). 

The main story is focused on Connie, how clever and methodical she is, considering her mother is described as if she was a "hippie" in the sense she believes in auras and more alternative activities like yoga and soul cleansing... Connie never met her father and she feels her mother is loving sure, but not the best role model. We feel there's this gap between them, but things seem to change a bit with the discoveries Connie makes in her inherited house. Beside the fact this is so convenient, I was also a little unsure about the findings Connie does on her own legacy.

Apparently, Connie is descended of a witch and, unlike what history seems to indicate, there was indeed one real witch at Salem. This is the premise of the whole story but the road until Connie learns this and how she deals with it and what kind of connection it ends up having with her college work felt a bit too far fetched. As I've said, the author includes notes at the end, including the information she did genealogy investigation and discovered she is herself a descendant of two Salem "witches". This was, I must say, more interesting to me than the book, but I can see where the ideas originated.

The fictional story was captivating for the most part, I especially liked the steps Connie took in her investigation and how she exchanged ideas with her friends and a potential boyfriend... but the execution of the ideas perhaps wasn't always as well achieved in a romance version. Had this been a pure romance with historical vibes perhaps it would have worked. But since there is also a thriller aspect (Connie seems to have to meet a deadline and help her boyfriend) , everything felt a bit clumsy and not as well structured to make it intriguing enough for the reader. I felt everything was just too obvious in all regards.

All in all, this was a good enough story, no doubt, interesting details ans historical facts mixed up with the fiction parts, which I liked the best. But I think it shows a little that this was the author's first work, with many details and not always sequenced in the best way, fiction wise.
Grade: 7/10

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