I don’t know what it is about this October, I’ve been ravenous for all things spooky, creepy, and witchy. Ethan and I have watched a handful of scary movies (including three-hour long Salem’s Lot from 1979, which I’m convinced inspired film Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s portrayal of vampires), eaten candy corn and themed cookie cake, and I have been tracking down Spotify playlists that boasts monsters and magic in the titles. I guessing it’s because Halloween is kind of lame in Alaska. Right now the weather is yucky and by the time the 31st rolls around, there will be snow (though I’m still crossing my fingers there won’t be). Another aspect of life I’ve been introducing the Halloween spirit? My reading of course. At first I found it somewhat challenging to find a book to read. I didn’t want gore, or anything truly frightening– something more like Practical Magic and Garden Spells. Semi-ordinary day-to-day stuff with witchy type heroines. When I read the synopsis for The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which is much more historical than I usually read, I was intrigued. So today, I’m bringing back my old favorite column (maybe just for the day, maybe more sporadically in the coming months), my book reviews.
Connie Goodwin, Harvard graduate student, is at the cusp of her academic career when her eccentric hippie mother calls from New Mexico to ask her “a favor.” While Connie would rather stick around Cambridge and enjoy the summer milling the libraries for possible topics for her dissertation, she agrees to trip up to Marblehead, Massachusetts, to deal with her long-since deceased grandmother’s home that will need to be sold in the coming months. The home is hard to find at first, obscured from the street by an overgrowth of shrubbery and trees. But once inside, she discovers a home that defies the day and age…which is 1991 of course! She marvels that the home is sans electricity, but is in no short supply of small glass bottles that line the kitchen shelves and other dark places scattered throughout the house. As she begins her duties to ready the home for modern living, she wanders into a room with books so old she wondered how old the house actually was. And that’s where she finds it. Tucked inside an ancient Bible, inside the hole of an antique key. Two words on a piece of parchment.
Every other chapter the reader is whisked back in time to the Salem Witch Trials, a chaotic time in New England’s history, where a woman named Deliverance Dane is being questioned for her involvement in the death and possession of the town’s little girls. And it is this history that Connie tries to uncover the existence of a practicing spell book that had yet to be found by years and years of scholars and historians. She is driven by her quest for knowledge, a strange curiosity, and the prodding of her advisor Professor Chilton who has some plans of his own involving Connie’s new source. On the streets of Marblehead, the deep and musty archives of churches and town halls, Connie dives into the past through generations of women beyond Deliverance’s time, and not only discovers the truth about witches, but also the unlikely truth about herself.
Ivy league education, a smart steeplejack capable of stealing hearts, and an old house with an extensive herb garden…is there any better read for a gray-skied October? This is a book that’s laced with witchcraft, mixed with historical accuracy with a pinch of whimsy and romance. And without all the distraction of technology, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is simply delightful.