It’s typically very rare that a debut novel gets published and turns a lot of heads at the same time. The book that I am about to review did just that. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the breakout novel by Boston University PhD candidate-turned novelist Katherine Howe. Published on June 9, 2009, it swiftly became one of the most-talked-about books of summer 2009. I fell upon this book purely by accident while watching Good Morning America on 6/10/2009. I was agog by the fact that Ms. Howe was featured in an interview about her debut novel the day after it became available for purchase. How is this even possible? I wondered as I quickly looked up the title on Amazon and promptly ordered it right then and there. I actually created a book club and made this book the first pick. The club never got off of the ground but all of the members read it and loved it!
Howe’s novel is composed of two intersecting parts: 1991 in Massachusetts in and around Harvard and 1692, the year of the Salem Witch Trials. The basic plot of the book is how graduate student Connie Goodwin realizes she has a connection with the Salem Witch Trials when she spends time at her grandmother’s house and stumbles upon a mystery. Lucky for the reader it is not difficult to go back and forth between the two time periods. Howe’s plot, dialogue, and characters all combine into a masterful cocktail of intrigue and suspense. As an academic I felt quite and home and even nostalgic for research while reading about Connie’s PhD examinations at Harvard. This does not, in any way mean that this book will appeal only to academics. All of the women that I suggested it to ended up falling in love with its intricate plot structure, the well-researched and executed historical context, and the suspense and mystery of the novel. Make sure you do have a dictionary handy when you read this as there are some words you may need to look up. While I learned what a simulacrum is in graduate school, many people do not ,but any new word you learn is a good one in my opinion!
In summation, Howe’s book deserves a place on the bookshelf next to your Hillary Wolf, Phillipa Gregory, Alison Weir and other fabulous historical fiction novelists’ works. It is deserving of all the hype and buzz it has and continues to receive. This was my first American historical fiction novel and it will not be the last. I actually stayed up late in to the night in bed to finish this novel(which is something that I rarely do). She is a fine author who is extremely accessable and gracious via social media-are you following katherinebhowe on Twitter yet? Have you “fanned’ her on Facebook? Do it! I only hope that she hurries up and finishes her PhD so her fan base can get another novel soon! She is in the number three slot on my list of “second novels I am anxious for”, eclipsed by Diane Setterfield and Arundahti Roy, respectively.