|Witch House, Salem (photo credit: Library of Congress)|
detailed, narrative, dense
unexpected!) was accused of witchcraft (and later released).
vaguely horrifying and mostly thrilling. It may have been the high point of the
book for me.
ago, I read Saint-Exupery: A Biography by
Stacy Schiff, and it was one of those remarkable reading experiences where a
book just drew me into its world and I wanted to stay there.
new book, The Witches, enticed me powerfully.
Schiff has become a Name in the world of biography writing, and I was excited
at the thought of reading another one of her books.
I got into this book, and I felt frustrated.
why: Schiff does a masterful job of gathering and presenting an immense array
of research, so she is able to present a wonderfully detailed account of the
events of 1692 in Salem. She places the reader in the scene, which is a
was bothered by the lack of analysis of why
this group of adolescent girls was twitching and writhing and accusing
others of being witches—and why innocent people were confessing to being
was no sense to it! And it was really bugging me.
realized that as a reader, I needed some interpretation along the way, to help
explain the madness that was taking place in Salem—to cut my irritation with the
utter nonsense of the situation.
arrived in the final chapters, where Schiff explains some of the possible
reasons for the witch accusations and trials. But I’d
just experienced over 300 pages of descriptions of utterly bizarre behavior
without much of an explanation. I was worn out and slightly peevish.
having been said, I don’t want to undercut the book overall. Beyond being a
magnificent researcher, Schiff has a delightful writing style—and even manages
to add some humor occasionally, despite the grimness of her subject matter.
summer took in thirteen-year-old Martha to see to her cure. She cantered,
trotted, and galloped about the Mather household on her ‘aerial steed,’
whistling through family prayer and pummeling anyone who attempted it in her
presence, the worse houseguest in history.” (21)
devil aimed to destroy the villagers because they bickered among themselves and
their ministers. (In fairness, were those the criteria, Satan would have had
his choice of New England congregations.)” (303)
to love the experience of reading this book. But I merely liked it. I remain un-bewitched.
history of genealogical nerdiness is indeed quite something