When Katherine Howe’s debut novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was chosen for last month’s book club selection, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I had NO idea. I had never heard of the book. While I might not be the dullest pencil in the bunch, I am also not the sharpest. The mere title of the book scared me. I was certain physick was spelled correctly (I think one of many edits would have caught something to obvious) and my little mind was thinking, this must be about something way over my head.
After a quick read of the book jacket and less quick Google search, I determined that physic meant healing, medicine, or the art/profession of healing. Hmmm, interesting…the Salem witches thought of as healers instead of witches. A novel concept and probably something my brain could comprehend. I had had small fears that physick would send me to the engineer/chemistry/physics lab’s to decipher what was occurring while I read the book.
The story is about mothers and daughters and, if I did not give it away already, witches leading up to the Salem witch trials. It takes place in modern day New England and starting in 1681 New England. The interwoven story will at times appear to be two distinct reads. A cautious readier (i.e. one who is always trying to figure out the ending before the end of the book instead of just enjoying and waiting) will not be fooled.
Connie, the story’s main character, did not grab me. I left feeling lukewarm towards her but believe this was the author’s intention to create a cold and sterile lead. Connie does not believe in witches and finds anything unproven as impossible at worst and impractical at best. What Connie finds, the story of real witches and the relationship of the husband’s and daughter’s they love testing her belief in the divine.
Katherine Howe shows the reader how metaphysical practices (divination, incantations, the law of attractions) provided a service in a time will little medical or science based interventions. Most who practiced “witchcraft”, physick’s, saw themselves in partnership with God. The healing came from this partnership and it was in God’s hands for the healing to occur. This contradicts the Church belief the “witches” worked for the Devil.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a new look on the events of the Salem witch trials. Perhaps the Salem witch trials, instead of occurring based on childish emotions, were based on childish emotions AND “witchcraft” (otherwise known as physick practice’s).
On another note, I missed the book club meeting on The Phsyick Book of Deliverance Dane. It was an eleventh hour decision and I feel terrible for missing. I apologize for missing and for not giving more advance notice.