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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

July 29th, 2009 by Ashley Shealy in Reading EKScursions

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe (Voice 2009)

Is The Scarlet Letter or The Crucible on your reading list? Want to know what a steeplejack is? Nostalgic for New England? Then this is the book for you. Conceived while the author was studying for her doctoral qualifying exams, Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane traces the history of one family’s book of spells from 1690s Massachusetts to the present day. Adding interest to the text is Howe’s own history – she is a descendant of Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem witch trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.

While the past and the present are not woven together as intricately or as mysteriously in Howe’s novel as they are in, say, A. S. Byatt’s Possession or Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre, it’s still a good read. I enjoyed the passages about the genealogical and historical research undertaken by the main character in pursuit of the physick book’s story, but that may be symptomatic of my profession in addition to a personal quirk. Howe covers the various accepted rationales behind the witchcraft hysteria from tension caused by competing religious populations to hallucination caused by eating moldy bread, and then adds one more that becomes the basis for her book – that witches were, and are, real.

If you’re looking for a well-written and entertaining book from which you just might learn something, give The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane a try!

Greta Wood

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