Dorcas Good: The Diary of a Salem Witch
Choosing to tell the tale of the 1692 Salem witches as a diary written by one of them seemed like a brilliant idea to me when I picked up this novel. And a child who had to be held in a magistrate’s arms and who sucked her thumb before the court accusing her of traffic with the devil, even more moving. Four-year-old Dorcas Good was imprisoned for a year, tortured, had her infant sister die in prison and her mother on the gallows – plenty from the history to fuel a terrific novel.
Unfortunately, I no longer believe in the wisdom of these choices, at least in Earhart’s hands. The first thing lacking was a good copy editor – half the question marks and commas were missing, “lay” and “lie” confused . . .
Once past this hurdle, we have the problem of believing a four-year-old wrote this. Yes, we are told this was an exceptional child – then that she wrote this all in later years, but it never rings true.
The form of a diary leads to a lot of telling instead of showing, a fatal flaw in a novel. Our narrator is in jail through much of the book and has to have pivotal events told to her by others. Even when she’s an eyewitness, the style is very distant and lacking in concrete detail, too dependent on dialogue to tell the tale.
The reader is regularly unprepared with details that could have brought honest emotion to events. For example, three birds that come to Goodwife Good’s hands are cited as her evil familiars. We should have seen these in halcyon days, not just seen them remembered and testified to.
Gaffes in logic occur on almost every page, including the first where we see two women tied up, waiting for the wicked father to come home – yet they are able to write descriptions of their plight.
The truly interesting aspects of Salem – the psychology of the young accusers and the social motives behind them – are given some lip service but are too distantly viewed to bring any new understanding. Even torturers become stereotypical when their deeds lack imagination and repeat from one scene to the next.