Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, July 03, 2009

Become spellbound by The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

In Katherine Howe's debut novel,The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,The main focus of the plot is set in 1991,where Harvard grad student Connie Goodwin winds up spending her summer trying to get her grandmother's abandoned house in Marblehead ready to be sold in order to pay off the back taxes that her flighty mother Grace ignored for years.

Since Grace now lives in New Mexico,Connie was talked into this thankless job and at first is overwhelmed by the huge mess that the ancient house and garden has become,not to mention worrying about finding a topic for her dissertation. As luck would have it,she finds an odd set of items during her cleaning that open up a whole new path for her intellectual curiosity to follow.

A key falls out of an old Bible that has a piece of paper with the words "Deliverance Dane" written upon it,which intrigues Connie into doing some research and discovering that it is the name of a woman who was excommunicated from her church in 1692 due to accusations of witchcraft.

With some help and encouragement from a new found friend and romantic interest,Sam who is a former scholar turned building restorer,she learns that Deliverance was a "cunning woman",a healer who may have passed down her book of recipes to her daughter Mercy,a book that seems to have been lost track of over time:

Excited by the prospect of documenting a previously unknown victim of the Salem Witch Trials and finding such a historically rich in knowledge book,Connie goes deeper into her research and starts to feel the affects of some odd roadblocks in her way.

For one thing,her mentor Manning Chilton is rather too intense in his interest for Connie's work and a strange symbol burned into the door of her grandmother's house can either be seen as a threat or a mark of protection. Also,some more tidying up around the place reveals a possible connection to the legacy of Deliverance Dane and Connie herself that may ultimately make the difference in a matter of life and death close to her heart.

This novel is quite the absorbing read;Katherine Howe intercuts the narrative with flashbacks to Deliverance and her descendants,one of whom tried to clear her mother's name and another who simply wanted to be rid of the whole mess altogether. Both the past and the modern day sections fit neatly beside each other,like the grooves of well shaped puzzle pieces.

Howe successfully invokes the competitive frenzy of the academic world and the guarded society of old school New England ,that even after the Salem Witch hysteria died down turned a harsh eye to any unconventional behavior from a woman,with a realistic flair combined with touches of magical wonder. She doesn't strain to create a plausible atmosphere for her characters or to accentuate the mystical elements of the story. Every bit of the book flows to the reader's imagination with captivating clarity:

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is now available and if you're looking for something to treat yourself to on this holiday weekend,this novel is well worth your time and money. It's a heady blend of mystery,mysticism and family ties that bind more than one generation together in order to embrace the blessings and the curses that come with true knowledge of the natural world:

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