The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” asked Sam, leaning closer to her over the card table and dropping his voice.
“What’s weird?” she said, turning to him.
“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.” Sam smiled sadly. “I guess that’s why I like preservation better than history. In preservation I feel like I can keep some of it from slipping away.”
As he spoke Connie noticed that his face was attractive in a wonderfully flawed sort of way; it held a sharp, straight nose peeling with sunburn, and mischievous green eyes bracketed by deep smile lines. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, a brown color bleached by the sun. Connie smiled at him.
“I can see that. But history’s not as different as you might think.” She brushed her fingers over Marcy Lamson’s name scrawled on the page. “Don’t you think Marcy would be surprised if she knew that some random people in 1991 were reading her name and thinking about her? She probably never even imagined 1991. In a way” – Connie hesitated – “it offers her a kind of immortality. At least this way she gets to be remembered. Or thought about. Noticed.”
Doesn’t this sound like a charming book? It was very fascinating. The last time I read about the Salem witches was in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was another way of looking at a terribly captivating time in history.
Connie Goodwin, a Harvard graduate, gets her hands on a bible and an ornate key in her grandmother’s ancient house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The key contains a paper with the name Deliverance Dane written on it. This seems like a perfect source for her dissertation to Connie, who decides to search for the long lost recipe book of Deliverance Dane, who appears to have been a Salem witch. Along the way, we’re treated to glimpses of the past and of Deliverance’s life.
I loved the first half of the book. I loved the descriptions of Deliverance’s life, and what they told us about the lives of the women of her time. The rich, musty, earthy feel of the past, of history, was evident throughout the book. I also enjoyed Connie’s journey to uncovering the truth. I lost much of my interest halfway through the book, though, when the story turned from all its historical goodness to fantasy. I was looking for a book that told me about the witch hunts and the victims of the witch trials and their terrifying but intriguing past. I didn’t think it would turn into a “Ooh, magic exits” thing; as it did once the modern-day characters started performing magic themselves! I had hoped against this very predictable twist from the moment I started reading the book, but I was disappointed. The plot wasn’t very quick paced; the author concentrated more on noticing and describing in detail the littlest things.
That being said, it was a good read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical books, can deal a relatively slower plot and doesn’t mind a dash of fantasy! I won’t say I loved the book, but I am glad I read it.

The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts by Arthur Miller

About the book: The Crucible is a 1952 play by Arthur Miller. It is a tragedy, which draws a parallel between the Salem Witch trials (1692-93) and the McCarthy era (1950s). There are two film versions of the play, a 1957 movie with a screenplay adapted by Jean-Paul Sartre and a later Academy Award nominated 1996 version.

Summary: Set in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts, The Crucible is a fictionalization of the Salem Witch Hunt. When a group of teenage girls accuse the townspeople of witchcraft and association with the Devil, claiming to be their victims; the entire town falls apart in a mass hysteria. The superstition and paranoia combined with building guilt and vengefulness led to wrongful punishment of a number of people.

“The witch hunt was a long overdue opportunity for everyone so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims. (…) Long-held hatreds of neighbours could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions. (…) One could cry witch against one’s neighbour and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”
My Thoughts: The Crucible is a powerful book. The dialogue is gripping and moves along at a nice pace. The characters don’t start out strong, but they do develop along the way.
Not used to reading plays, I appreciated the little snippets of information about the ‘original characters’ and explanation of the setting, which the author provides between the scenes. But I enjoyed the book even more, when the author stopped interrupting the flow of the play with ‘background info’ and the dialogue stood strong on its own.
The book gives you a glimpse at a society of an entirely different time. Yet from the underlying themes of wrongdoing under the guise of religion, blame, vengeful lies and irrational fear, you can draw parallels to your own society in so many respects. It’s a chilling story; a tragedy much more moving than I could have imagined.
The review is a part of the Back to Classics Challenge hosted at Sarah Reads Too Much.