The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Written by Katherine Howe
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

This is a story that’s easy to lose yourself in. It alternates between the early 1990s, when Connie Goodwin is working on her doctorate in American colonial history at Harvard, and the colonial Salem area, mostly in the early 1690s. Connie has passed her oral exams, and when asked by her mother to ready Connie’s grandmother’s long vacant house outside of Salem for possible sale, she decides she can spend the summer fixing up the house while finding a topic for her dissertation, which she needs to start soon. She has never seen her grandmother’s house before and is amazed to find it is centuries old, hidden by overgrowth. Shortly after she arrives, she finds an ancient key containing an equally old slip of paper with the words “Deliverance Dane” written upon it. Connie is not one to ignore a historical mystery, one which plays out for the reader in the Interlude sections, in which we get glimpses of the life of Deliverance Dane, her daughter, and granddaughter. Goody Dane has the misfortune to live at the time of the Salem witch trials. But what was her role? Why is she not mentioned in the records of that time?

The alternating time periods do not distract but rather interplay neatly. The Interludes, while shorter than the 1990s story, give an atmospheric glimpse into that fraught time and some of its lingering consequences. In Connie’s sections, the research undertaken by the chair of the history department, the story of her grandmother’s house, and the mystery of what happens to the men connected to this house, all interweave with Connie’s search for Deliverance Dane to create a book that is impossible to put down.