Saturday, September 18, 2010

What I'm Reading: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

How could I not be intrigued by a book set in Salem, MA that pertained to the witch trials and a missing book of healing and magic? If ever a book screamed right up your alley it was this one. I curled up on the couch this morning and consumed it with the same voracious appetite I might a cheesecake.

Two hours and I was done. It was that good.

I got it to read primarily because we will be in Salem in a few weeks and I wanted to get in a Salem-y kind of mood. But what I loved most about the book had little to do with its geography. There were many aspects of the book that reminded me of The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, another one of my favorite books read in recent memory. I find I unconsciously pick (and then love) books about generations of women passing knowledge to each other while struggling with that knowledge in the framework of their own time. And if it has a supernatural plot twist, as both do, that's just a bonus.

I have toyed with adding a supernatural element to my own novel, but haven't figured out how to best do it. In a book about Salem, it just makes sense to add some witchiness, but in the Appalachian mountains, the supernatural elements at play are less obvious. I have toyed with giving some of my characters "the sight"--but at the same time, I don't want them to know the future. This is a tricky proposition, and something I'm still working through. It's something else I need to research (and hear some stories about having 'the sight'. Anyone know some? Cathy?)

Anyway, as an added bonus, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane also touches on the art of healing in a time before modern medicine. My own novel deals with healing too, and it was interesting to make comparisons between Howe's novel and my own in-progress.
Lately, most everything I do ties back in some way to my book.
I am not missing WNC, but now that I am far from home, I find myself wanting to do things (gardening, canning, listening to blue grass music, etc.) that I had exactly zero interest in when I lived there. I almost joined a local clogging group until I realized I would need to drive up to 2 hours round trip for a 45-minute-long class. I have too little free time as it is to eat any of it up in a long, cross-town commute in the middle of the night. Especially when that's time I could use to actually write my novel. And yet, I long to clog. Go figure.
This past week I watched the movie Songcatcher for research purposes and made the connection in my own mind between my interests of late (watching episdes of Hee-Haw on YouTube, for example) and the way the mountain people stubbornly clung to and preserved the speech, culture, and music of their Scots-Irish homeland.
The same goes for me. I'm Appalachian, and I'm perfectly at home here in New York. For the first time in my life, I know it's possibly to love two places equally well. To feel at home here and there. And I don't want to forget. I want what I know to get passed somewhere.

A physick book contains recipes, observations, histories, and events of importance, jotted down to be remembered later and passed down. A repository for lost knowledge. As I read the book today, I began to realize that this blog is a sort of physick book. And so is the novel I'm trying to write. And I thought of the other blogs I read, and about the insight and support I gain from them. And I thought of all the writers I know, and they way their writing is so infused by their lives and observations and point of view.

It seems each of us are writing our own physick book right now. And each and every one of them is magical.

1 comment:

  1. You could always have your heroine born with a caul- that is supposed to indicate second sight. She could also be able to "see the sang" I have heard people in my family talk about that- that some people have the ability to spot ginsang growing in the woods- it seems to glow to them.
    OH and I was at the Fiddlin Pig a couple of weeks ago wishing that I had learned to clog- something that you could not have gotten me close to with a 10 foot pole 10 years ago. I guess mothering brings up the need to connect to past generations/


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