Monday, January 17, 2011
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
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.
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!