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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane 18 February 2010

Posted by The Inimitable M in Books, Reviews and Writing.
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I’m not big on tales of the paranormal or witchcraft.  I am fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, however.  My philosophy has been based on the fact that these people, much like members of my own family, were simply women who knew how to take care of people using natural herbs and remedies.  They were good at it, too.  That, I do believe, is what got them in trouble: their knowledge vs. other people’s ignorance.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, written by Katherine Howe, gives us quite possibly a different angle.  I’m not opposed to it, either.  I am an Aspie, and even I see the sense in it.

From the website:

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.

Admittedly, the book started a little slow for me, and it was necessary, through the first couple of chapters, to pry my brain out of its usual manuscript editor (read: cynical) behaviour.  I am also usually irritated by descriptive passages that seem inconsequential, such as telling us over and over that Connie wears cargo shorts and flip flops, or that there was dust and grime in this corner or that corner of the house.

Still, Connie’s research, her methods, the smell of the Harvard library collections, the feel of the spines of ancient books became a part of me to such a degree that I walked with her everywhere she went.

There were a couple of places in the book where, despite her abilities and knowledge, I wondered how Connie Goodwin could be so oblivious to standard research processes she should have learned as an undergrad (as I did) that she would miss the things that just reached out and grabbed me by the throat immediately.  Yes, I said so out loud.  Then, of course, she made her “sudden” discoveries two chapters later after a perilous episode she could have avoided completely if she were paying attention about 15 or 20 pages back.  Those few places were irritating, because they seemed to be arbitrary fillers to some degree, and I did say so out loud.  But when you find yourself talking to a book and its characters as if they were real, you discover that they have, indeed, become real.

As I travelled through the story of Connie Goodwin, Sam, Grace, Deliverance Dane and the generations in between, I found it difficult to put down.  The little grammatical mishaps (I found no real errant spelling issues) blurred to the point of an imperceptible grey mist in the background of history, politics, religion and heresy.  I also found that the same style of description that was so frustrating in the beginning became necessary to the story as it progressed, and I devoured it as I would devour an entire 42 oz. bag of peanut M&Ms.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a remarkably crafted novel that ties, in many ways, current times with one of the most disturbing and intriguing periods in history:  the speculation and assumption surrounding the Puritan concept of witchcraft and the Salem Witch Trials.  I found myself completely taken by it.  And yes, I know Deliverance Dane’s physick book does not exist.  I wish it did, because I want it.

4 out of 5 stars just because Katherine Howe held me so well and now has me waiting for the rumoured sequel.



1. Max - 19 February 2010

It doesn’t really sound like my cup o tea but it’s still interesting none the less. We’ve finally got a book review blog!! Excellent stuff Maggie 😉

theinimitablem1 - 19 February 2010

I’m going to keep going with this with each book I read. It is fair that I don’t review our own books, so have decided to commit 150 pages a night to others’ works. Just now am reading The Judas Strain. Give me a week or so.


2. James McShane - 19 February 2010

Now this I could get me teeth into. Thanks for the review, Maggie.

theinimitablem1 - 19 February 2010

You’re welcome. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, and then when it didn’t turn out to be alot of fake hocus pocus, I really enjoyed it.

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