“She was always puzzled that people say that darkness falls. To her it seemed instead to rise, massing under trees and shrubs, pouring out from under furniture, only reaching the sky when the spaces near the ground were full.”
“The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” by Katherine Howe
Since I adore the concept of this book so much, it’s disappointing to have to admit that I found The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane as underwhelming as I did. It is the story of a bright Harvard grad student of history, Connie Goodwin, who discovers quite a bit about herself and her past in her attempts to research a ground-breaking dissertation during a summer of trying to clear out her grandmother’s old home on the outside of Salem, Massachusetts. It is an incredibly fitting setting: Connie is interested in researching Colonial history, and her interests are leaning toward the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, especially after the discovery of a lesser known woman accused of witchery by the name of Deliverance Dane. Drawn in with curiosity, the lines between Connie’s life and Deliverance’s begin to blur, and she slowly unravels an even greater discovery with the prompting of her academic adviser and the hint that there might be a book of “physick,” an old shadowbook that might prove that witchcraft just might have actually have been real.
As I said, I love the story. As a history major myself, I love that the heroine is an academic and I love the idea of unraveling a history to discover something extraordinary about the world today, as well. This book had all the opportunities to offer that, but I felt they were lost in rather lackluster story telling and the heroine not being nearly as clever as she was made out to be. There was no great surprise in this book for me; I figured out most of it well before even halfway through the book, which made it frustrating that our apparently brilliant Connie couldn’t see what was right in front of her. Perhaps Connie just lacked the imagination to accept such things, which I could understand. Still, I felt there was a certain innocence about the book, about the motivations of the characters and their perspective of the world, that didn’t seem to quite match the darkness and depth that I feel Howe was trying to accomplish.
To be honest, I found Howe’s personal connection to the Salem Witch Trials (she is a long decedent of two accused witches, Elizabeth Proctor and Elizabeth Howe, one who survived, one who did not) almost more intriguing that Connie’s much deeper connections, though that might have been that I made the connection so early. To me, it was a little obvious, and the story basically panned out how I expected it to, and it provided a mild blip on the radar to briefly entertain me and renew a little bit of interest in that area of American history.
I liked Physick Book, but I felt it could have been so much more, too. A good breezy read, if anything.
Books read: 52/100.