Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Something about the antique look to the cover of this brand new title and the thin but perfect old-fashioned sepia script of the inside covers persuaded me to scoop it up and attempt to read it in a week, as is required of all Reader's Express books at our library. I completed only half of the book in seven days, and reluctantly returned it, only to go back the same evening and check it back out so that I could finish it. And it was well worth the wait.

The first novel by Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane chronicles the tale of Connie Goodwin, a Harvard doctoral candidate in 1991 (the year I completed grad school, BTW), who must clean out her grandmother's deserted New England home and discovers a piece of paper that possesses ties to the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Two parallel stories emerge as Deliverance's very real powers are misconstrued and she is hanged as a witch, with repercussions to her daughter Mercy and granddaughter Prudence. As we follow Connie's uncovering of the truth as she exercises her formidable researching skills, ties between her research and her own life are slowly unearthed. Meanwhile, her Harvard advisor is strangely putting a great deal of pressure on her, even threatening her, to discover the book of recipes and herbal remedies written by Deliverance Dane, a book that was passed down through the generations of the Dane women.

Through the several stories bridging the generations, Connie discovers the power of the Dane women and her own powers as knowledge and even a little romance lead her to the truth, her truth. The search for the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a compelling tale, half Salem Witch stories and half a modern telling of a young grad student discovering much about her family and herself as well.

Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club (which I very much liked), wrote:

"A fresh present-day story infused with an original take on popular history. Forget broomsticks and pointy hates; here are witches that could well be walking among just today. This debut novel flows with poetic charm and eloquence that achieves high literary merit while concocting a gripping supernatural puzzler. Katherine Howe's talent is spellbinding."
This book is brand-new and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's a good summer read, especially for those who enjoy history and research as I do. It might feel a little "slow" for some accustomed to John Grisham or Sue Grafton, but if one is more of a Dorothy Sayers or P.D. James fan, then one will recognize the mastery of suspense without gratuitous violence and/or gore. It is well-worth slogging through the detritus of academia in order to get to the heart of the matter, to the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.


Anne said...

Susanne, looks like a good book to get lost in and forget your worries for a while! Thanks for the recommendation!

I want to thank you for the lovely messages you left on my blog. I have heard that nearly every faith tradition uses some type of prayer beads. I like the physical touch of them. To pray with your body and your soul really draws me in and helps me to focus on God during prayer. I'm so attracted to other physical forms of prayer as well, like the sign of the cross, kneeling, bowing-I like to worship God with my entire self. I'm so glad to hear that your friend had your rosary blessed and is keeping it for you. That gives me goose bumps!

I think you would love Taize'Chant. It was begun after WWII by Brother Roger in Taize', France. It is an ecumenical prayer movement with all Christian faiths. The prayer services are gorgeous! The entire church is dark except for the light of hundreds of candles. Icons are displayed everywhere. It's lots of silence with intermittent Taize' chants and scripture readings. Here is a link that my friend at La Vie Graphite sent me. My son has already burned a CD for me of the chants and I just love it! It is so peaceful and the harmonies are beautiful! Pax Christi to you my dear, sweet friend!

Susanne Barrett said...

I, too, am so attracted to praying with my body as well as my mind and soul. I love kneeling for prayer, the sign of the cross, genuflecting, etc. I want to worship Jesus with ALL of me -- holding nothing back.

Thanks for the Taize Chant site -- I'm going to go check it out right now. :) Thank you, my kindred spirit!

Pax Christi to you as well!


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