The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Review by Jarad Johnson
This delightful novel tells two stories; one of a woman accused of witchcraft in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, the other of a graduate student in 1991. The Salem Witch Trials have long been the subject of fascination both to scholars and enthusiasts alike, but the author, who is a descendant of Elizabeth Howe and Elizabeth Proctor, two women accused of witch-craft during the Salem hysteria approached the event not through the eye of history, instead choosing to take the villagers at their word, and elaborate on the uncommon question: what if witches and witch-craft really were present in Salem?
The parts of the books that recount the actual witch in Salem were not what I expected, and took on many aspects of the Judeo-Christian religion, with many recitations of the Lord’s Prayer peppered throughout the witch’s, whose name is Deliverance Dane, rituals. This was interesting to me in part because witches were primarily seen by the Puritans as an affront to their faith, among other things. So, to intertwine those two ideologies was not only surprising but served to show off the author’s knowledge of colonial America.
The name Elizabeth Proctor is no doubt familiar if you’ve read the Crucible by Arthur Miller. Howe makes reference to this famous play with an excerpt at the beginning of the book detailing the gruesome death of Giles Corey, who was crushed to death by stones when he would not plead guilty to witch-craft, but only whispered, “More weight.” Certainly, one of the more compelling scenes from the play that did in fact happen, and is the only the recorded instance of such a horrific sanction in American History.
Furthermore, the juxtaposition of Connie’s modern-day existence with Deliverance’s life in 1692 is artfully done, and flows very smoothly with the plot; I enjoyed that Howe, as she explained in her postscript, took the time to recreate a historically accurate scene in Salem. I also found it very inspiring to see the unshakeable confidence that Deliverance exhibited in the face of such disgusting hardship. She was even calm as she was hanged, while the others around her screamed and cursed, which is more than appropriate, but I think it shows that the author wove a strong character when she created Deliverance.
Connie’s search for her ancestor’s grimoire, or recipe book, is the leading plot point of the novel, and it spans the entire work nearly to the last page. It was one of the best parts of the novel, showing Connie track the book through all of the people who owned it, which is a fascinating thing in and of itself, especially for book lovers. Interestingly, the author acknowledges that no actual grimoires have been discovered outside of Europe as of this time.
If there was anything that I didn’t like about the book, it was the antagonist, Professor Chilton. He seemed to be the stereotype of a professor; immaculate, bow-tied, and pipe-smoking. While this is a very compelling image of a professor, it’s pretty safe to say that most of them aren’t like that, an unfortunately it served only to make him less realistic in my opinion.
Overall, however, I loved this book. I thought it was beautifully written, historically compelling and full of intriguing characters. For me, it was a unique take on a book about witches, because as much as I love a good witchy book, sometimes they can start becoming the same plot; however, this book is a stand out for me, mainly because the author took inspiration from the actual events that occurred in Salem. I look forward to reading more of her work, and I highly recommend this one.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!