Monday, January 17, 2011

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

So first off, I had THE HARDEST TIME with this fracken title for the longest time. I was reading on my Nook, and from the glances I took at various covers, "Dane" is a total afterthought. So like a goober, I ran around calling this one The Physick Book of Deliverance for the longest time. Then I realized there's a "Dane" dangling out there and I had to correct myself, but by then it just sounded weird.

But here we go with actual reviewiness!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had an interesting time with The Physick Book of Deliverance...Dane." At times I wanted to nail the protagonist in the head with a mallet and at one point this book damn near made me cry.

Hormonal? Maybe.

Quick synopsis: Two interwoven narratives, present day is Connie Whats-Her-Face, a PhD candidate in the history department of Harvard, with lots of pressure from her stuck-up, celebrity-intellectual advisor to find a new and stunning historical source for her dissertation. She just so happens to move into her grandmother's dilapidated house near Salem to clean the joint up after the grandmother's death, and BOOM, source evidence shows up! The other narrative is from the 1600s and is the story of  Deliverance Dane, a cunning woman and healer, aka, witch! Accused at the Salem Witch Trials and all.

There were distinctly good and distinctly crappy parts to this book. On the good side, the basic premise is fascinating. Everything I've ever read (as Connie points out in this novel) on the Salem Witch Trials assumes the accusing girls were subject to mob mentality, it was the Puritan social order being tested and rebelled against, etc. In other words, they were full of crap and very, very bratty. But this book asks what it would have been like if magic was real. What if those darn bratty girls did accuse wrongly for the most part, but there was one witch in the bunch??? Interesting stuff. I found the practice of witchcraft quite interesting in the novel as well. These were more than herb-and-candle witches, but not quite Harry Potter witches either.

On the craptaculous side, I sort of wanted to stab Connie--the contemporary, supposedly brilliant, PhD candidate--in the eyeball on several occasions. For one thing, and I absolutely do not consider this a spoiler since it was so sickeningly obvious someone using the book pages as kitty box liners could've figured it out...Connie is related to the witches in her story. Their names are Deliverance, Mercy, Constance, Prudence, and other such Puritan fare. All of a sudden around page 250 of the book, Connie realizes that her full name is Constance and she's bowled over by this revelation!

Really? Seriously? That was a point at which I sat back, rolled my eyes, and actually said aloud, "Wow, this one jumped the shark." I just found it ridiculous that at that point in the novel, after so much time researching, living at her grandmother's house, and dabbling in some weird shizzle, she wouldn't have realized this piece of info. What-ever.

Anywho, while Connie was a dumbass sometimes, I did really enjoy the Harvard academic-speak, reading about her research process, and the atmosphere in her grandmother's OLLLLD house was comfy and cozy for me as a reader. I loved the bits about the house, the way it was built and furnished, the items she found inside, and all of that cool stuff.

Of the two narratives, the one about the actual Salem witches was far superior to Connie's contemporary journey. I sort of felt that Howe's heart was in the historical, and not so much with Connie in the present day. Connie inhabited more pages of the book, but all-in-all her storyline provided flash but less quality, while the historical storyline seemed much more thoughtful.

Am I sorry I read this book? No! Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a waste of time at all. It was just kind of "meh" at the end of the day. Some parts were nice, some parts sucked donkey toe, and overall it made for an interesting experience. I usually don't feel quite this yanked in different directions about my reading.

Now I want to know what you thought! If you've reviewed it, weigh in with your thoughts and let's see if I'm in the majority or just cranky this morning. If you haven't read it, is this a book you would tackle?

Note: Katherine Howe tweeted my review link and mentioned the donkey toes. Ha! Peace, Ms. Howe! 


  1. I've been wanting to read this one, and now I think you've adjusted my expectations to the manageable level--I wondered how well this author could use the by-now-familiar now-and-back-then format with this subject.

  2. I am on the fence about reading this one. I know a few people who have read this and thought it was meh also. It won't go on my want to read list, but will stay on my radar.

  3. I read this book when it first came out. To be honest, the Salem part was so much more interesting than the Connie part. Writing a dissertation isn't anything like it was portrayed except of the advisor part. My first advisor told me my topic was print worthy. He was also a snob, arrogant publicity hungry moron.
    Books about the witch trials always have interested me, and for that reason I wasn't sorry I read the book.
    Great review, I like your honesty.

  4. Your are right on the money with this one. Part of my disappointment after reading the book comes from how good I think it could have been. I've been fascinated by Salem since I was a little girl, but it ended up being what I call a "really" book-- the kind where I keep having to ask myself "really?" "really?"

  5. Jeanne, it really is an interesting read. I wish Howe had done a little better job evening out the quality of the two narratives. That's my biggest quibble!

    Elisabeth, definitely give it a try if you're in the mood for some Salem Witch Trials, something remotively creepy in spots. Maybe an RIP Challenge read!

    Alex, I was offered a review copy when it first came out, and I passed. It's probably a good thing, as I'm not sure how a review with "sucked donkey toe" in it would've gone over with the pubs. lol Anyway, I know it wasn't very academically accurate at all. She was the most laid back dissertation writer EVER. I know this having written a Masters thesis. Geez! Chilton had a right to be uptight, just a little too evil. :) As for the honesty, I call 'em like I see 'em.

    LOL, Mindy! I'm right there with you. I ended up reading a good bit about Katherine Howe in the process of reading this novel, and I think she could've done more with it!

  6. I bought this in the mad rush of positive blogger reviews, and it has stayed on the TBR shelves since then. I really need to quit my job and possibly stop like eating and sleeping and stuff. Then I could get through my TBR piles. :)

  7. LOL, Trisha! Same here. If I could cut out bathroom breaks, I'm pretty sure life would be perfect.

  8. With the torn paper on the cover, I always thought there was a word missing from the title that would be explained in the book somewhere. This might be a good one for the beach or something like that.

  9. I agree with you -- it was good and fun in some parts, and in other parts I could not believe how obvious the plot points were. But on the other hand, I wanted it to be perfect because I love dual timeline books, so the expectations gap probably screwed me over a bit. :p

  10. This book has been one I have considered - but have not committed to.

  11. I had trouble with the title, too! But instead of forgetting about the word Dane, I just kept thinking it was "Dance." Physick Book of Deliverance Dance.

    ALSO, one thing I felt was very much glossed over...

    Um, as all the men in love with the witches through history died... wasn't it weird the current one was still around? I think it pretty likely he'll be lost at sea, too, some time...

  12. are a woman after my own heart.

  13. I started reading this book last year and had to stop because things were becoming so obvious! I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt the same way.

  14. You review rocks! Made me smile, laugh and actually makes me want to read the book. I like the premise and well now I know what I can expect so not bad.

    Donkey toe... too funny.

  15. I do like reading historical fiction on the Salem trials and I like that this brings in a new angle. However, since it is only meh, it is not going on my wishlist right away.

  16. Kathy, I thought the same thing! I was expecting a missing word. Definitely a good beach book. :)

    Jenny, I can see how that could happen. Just wish it would've been a wee tad more mysterious. Ahh, well.

    Sheila, looking forward to your thoughts if you decide to take the plunge.

    Aarti, I thought about that too!!! A totally forgotten plot point, and I have a hard time believing Connie was more clever than any of her line of witches. Sheesh!

    LOL, thanks, Aimee! "Fracken" has helped me clean up my language immensely.

    Oooh, no, you're not the only one, Vasilly! It was painfully obvious.

    Thanks, Iliana!!! I hope you enjoy it when ya get around to it!

    Iris, it's worth a try if you happen to run across it in your shopping. :)

  17. I agree - the Salem witches portion was MUCH more interesting. Although I liked this book, I thought it was sort of a fluffier version in some portions about a terrible time in history. Connie aka Constance was definitely not the sharpest pencil around when it came to "realizing" several things. And her advisor/mentor - knew he was bad news from the stiz-art (start).

  18. It's been long enough since I read it that what I really remember is how much I loved the historical scenes and kept wishing the present-day scenes would just get over with so I could move back to the past. I liked the house, though, and just enjoyed the experience of the book. It was a nice, different take on the whole Salem witch thing and I liked the way it ended. I'd totally forgotten how lame it was when she realized her name was Constance! Duh. I'm pretty sure my review was kind of gushy. As I said, in the end I really enjoyed it, in spite of not really liking the present-day portions.

  19. You know I find that when an author tries to juggle a past character and a present character the historical one wins out. Just as you pointed out in your post about how the Salem witch was more interesting than the contemporary character. I find Amy Tan's books that way. For example the Bone Setter's Daughter.

  20. By the way, the anonymous post about Amy Tan's book are from me, theotherfeminist. For some reason I am having trouble signing in.

  21. I have a review copy of this somewhere (bad, Carrie!). It sounds intriguing, but I agree about the spoiler. I assumed it to be the case from the book's description. I still want to read this one, but I'm glad to be warned of the most obvious plot development!

  22. Nat, right on about the advisor. What a royal pain the arse! Definitely fluffy.

    Nancy, I did like that it was a different take on the whole thing. Lord knows I've read my weight in non-fiction and fiction about the Witch Trials.

    Fem, that's good to know about Tan's books. I haven't read any of her stuff yet, but I have lots of it on the shelves!

    Hi, Carrie! Yeah, I don't think that bit is a big revelation to anyone except the main character. lol

  23. I've always been drawn to all things having to do with the Salem witch trials so this is one I will have to pick up and give a try!

  24. I think I have this one hanging out on a TBR shelf somewhere. I loved your review. You made me laugh. I'm looking forward to the Salem part of the story now...I am always intrigued by Salem witch stuff.

  25. I really did enjoy this book, I have to say that I did have a few problems with it. I had difficulty connecting with Connie's character. Despite the fact that she's a graduate student like myself, her emotions seemed somewhat glossed over or rationalized rather than being felt intensely. In addition, there were times that I got lost in all of the descriptions, and there were times when I found myself enjoying the historical perspectives more than Connie's story. I would have liked to have seen Connie and Sam's relationship develop more.


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