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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Created date

February 23rd, 2010

What if there really were witches in Massachusetts in the 1600s? This is the question author Katherine Howe explores in her debut novelThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane(Hyperion 2009). Equal parts supernatural thriller and historical drama, the spellbinding tale begins when Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin goes to Marblehead, Mass., to handle the sale of her grandmother s home and spend the summer there researching her doctoral dissertation. Amidst the mildew, cobwebs, and shelves of glass jars containing unidentifiable contents, she finds an ancient key nested in an old family bible. Inside the key s hollow shaft is a piece of yellowing parchment containing the name Deliverance Dane.

Cunning folk

As Connie searches for the origins of the name, she is drawn deeper into the mystique of 17th century New England society when villagers called upon cunning folk, wise people who provided, for a price, occult services, including locating lost property, healing the ill, and a practice called unbewitchment if you suspected a witch cast a spell on you, the cunning person was your best remedy. Deliverance Dane was one of these cunning folk, and Connie soon finds herself on a personal quest to solve the mystery behind this woman s life and her connection to Connie s grandmother. When Connie begins to experience what first appear to be hallucinations, she comes face-to-face with her own family s role in the mystery. Moving seamlessly between present day and New England life in the 1690s, Howe gives us a riveting look at people and events long since vanished, while the presence of charms and superstitions endures to this day. With names like Goody Oliver and Major Samuell Appleton, characters from the past become real and sympathetic in the hands of this talented writer.

Ancestral connection

What gives this novel an air of authenticity is the author s own ancestral connection to Elizabeth Proctor and Elizabeth Howe, both of whom were accused during the Salem witch trials of 1692. Proctor survived; Howe did not. Were they truly practitioners of the black arts or like many unconventional women of the day who had a physick book filled with recipes for a wide variety of ailments? Regardless of the answer, the next time you flip a coin or shake a magic ball, Katherine Howe would remind you that you have simply conjured up a modern version of divination as old as time itself.