HOWE DELIVERS A TALE OF SHADOWY INTRIGUE in “Deliverance Dane”

For fans of:

The Salem Witch Trials

Black cats and crescent moons


 

Who better to be told a story about witchcraft than from someone who is a direct descendent of two women put on trial in the seventeenth century? Katherine Howe (author of Conversion, The House of Velvet and Glass, and others) is the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, a “shadow book” she finds in the summer of ‘91 in her grandmother’s abandoned house, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

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The book itself is beautifully designed, from the front and inside covers to the font choice. Unlike some other books, Howe’s novel’s accurate design helps put the reader in the proper attitude. Set in Massachusetts during the height of the Salem Witch Trials, the story is told from dual perspectives in 1692 and 1991.

Connie, the protagonist, is a grad student and aspiring Harvard professor who knows a lot about Salem and witchcraft in general. When her mother, more in touch with the universe and reading auras than her own daughter’s life and emptions, leaves the mess of her mother’s (Connie’s grandmother) house to Connie to clean up, that’s when the story really begins. With rich and lavish descriptions of the house—the plants, the flowers, the herbs—Howe paints a wonderfully… ahem… magical picture.

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A relationship with Sam, the town steeplejack, a nose-ringed, Doc Marten-wearing hipster with a knack for fixing things and a shared interest in Salem history, serves as a convenient alliance. Not only does he help stave off Connie’s loneliness, he has access to old town archives in the back of the church he works at.

The reader is right alongside Connie as she uncovers a secret name, a hidden key, old texts, manuscripts, and spell books, and will experience the same thrill as in a game of clue in which one must put two and two together. My biggest pet peeve is cheesy dialogue between Connie and her dog Arlo, in which she literally asks the dog questions, then pauses, as if expecting the mutt to answer her. Also, the character of Professor Manning Chilton felt like a caricature at times. But despite these few silly exchanges, it’s a good sign that a few lines of dialogue are the most I see wrong with this witchy tale.

 

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Ultimately, the story is believable, down to the accurate dialogue in the flashbacks, and isn’t too difficult to read. Howe sets her scenes well—from the clothes, descriptions of the house, the outdoors, etcetera—weaving a mystical tale inspired by reality, which makes it all the more haunting.

 

Recommendations:

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Happy reading 🙂

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THE RUCKSACK REVOLUTION: Art imitates life in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums

FOR FANS OF

The Beatniks

Buddhism

Run-on sentences


“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray.”

As with Kerouac’s On the Road, the 1957 roman à clef that immortalizes his various travels with the inimitable, Roman-candle-in-human-form Neal Cassady in the character of Dean Moriarty, his 1958 novel The Dharma Bums does something similar for Gary Snyder with the character of Japhy Ryder.

Pulitzer Prize winning poet, essayist, and environmental activist, Snyder is the man who first introduced Kerouac to Buddism, a topic the novel discusses in relative detail. Talk of Nirvana, meditating dogs, and the dichotomy between city and country life casts these (sometimes fictionalized) events in Kerouac’s life in a more peaceable, less drug and alcohol-infused light than those of On the Road.

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Snyder

“The dogs meditated on their paws. We were all absolutely quiet. The entire moony countryside was frosty silent, not even the little tick of rabbits or coons anywhere. An absolute cold blessed silence.”

The protagonist, Ray Smith, an ill-disguised Kerouac, is a young freethinker bumming around from city to city, attending three-day parties and rambling about wherever the breeze blows him. Ryder, a tireless mountaineer and Zen master, is reminiscent of Cassady in that both Japhy and Dean spend the better part of each respective novel offering their infinite wisdom to the protagonist, molding and shaping Kerouac’s mind and writings.

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Kerouac

Japhy’s enlightened Buddhist musings are at one time pretentious gibberish to the reader for whom Buddhist teachings are unfamiliar while also being mind-altering in a positive and reverential way for the true Kerouacian. Like a polished mirror, Kerouac’s words have highly powerful reflective properties that make this reader think about what she wants most out of life, her aspirations, travel plans, and beliefs about death and religion.

Kerouac was no stranger to waxing poetic about all of the above and it’s not difficult to see how he was a mind, body and soul that truly belonged in the time he was living. Along with his novellas and novels, Kerouac was a successful poet. His Book of Sketches of prose poetry makes a great coffee table or travel book and a student video inspired by his 66-part “Scripture of the Golden Eternity” is below.

“See the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming…”

Happy reading!

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