“For a godly people, he reflected,
his neighbors surely take their interest in one another’s sins” (52).
Deliverance’s story, and I believe the Salem Witch Trials in general, as per Katherine Howe’s novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, take root in the nosey neighbour. Everything about Deliverance’s story creates sheer discomfort and anger at the point to which paranoia will lead people. This tale helps those of us who are weary of neighbours who want too many details about our lives feel vindicated for our slight cold shoulder and not-all-too-inviting attitude. (Friendly chat about the weather – yes, sharing inner-most dreams – no).
Upon reading Howe’s novel, it is clear that women were put to death because of the fear of the mob. Accusing and killing these women assauged those fears, but left a tremendous legacy. Howe humanizes the women accused of witchcraft through Deliverance Dane. She is no-nonsense, fearless about using her gifts, and a good, Christian woman. Her neighbours rushed to her for help with ailments. Those same people turned on her in an instant when it meant saving themselves.
It is when she says good-bye to her daughter, Mercy Dane, that the injustice of the accusors is accutely felt. Howe adeptly brings to life the trials and all of the feelings of those involved in the trials. It is an intimate look at a very dark moment in American history. I learned so much about a fascinating subject without opening a textbook. It was great.
Howe builds towards the climax with all sorts of stories about Deliverance’s descendants as Connie Goodwin hunts for Deliverance’s lost book of spells and potions veiled as recipes. Each story is so intriguing that I would be perturbed whenever I had to return to Connie’s story.
It is so very difficult for us to imagine a world where witches actually exist. We believe that they do not, they live in the same dimension as the Easter Bunny and the Toothfairy. Howe’s Postscript assures us that the fear in 1692 Salem was very real. There are all sorts of political and economic explanations for the panic; nonetheless, to the people of that time and place, witchcraft was a fact. Howe adds a twist: what if they were real?
Howe adds a touch of fantasy to her plot by incorporating real witches, real witchcraft and showing that perhaps, they were far better people than those persecuting them. Or, at the very least, they were grossly misunderstood.
Ultimately, I enjoyed Katherine Howe’s novel as a first exposure to historical fiction. It is not a genre I am anxious to jump into again, but one that I will not avoid. Not at all.
If you read Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, what did you think?