Monday, June 8, 2009
Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe
Connie Goodwin is a graduate student recently promoted to candidacy, when she is exhorted by her advisor to find her primary source for her thesis. A summer trip takes Connie to her grandmother’s dilapidated cottage to fix the place up in order to be sold, and she finds a scrap of paper with Deliverance Dane’s name on it. Connie then finds herself searching for Deliverance’s book of physick. The novel is punctuated by little scenes from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, detailing the journey of Deliverance’s book.
The good: this book was a real page-turner. Although somewhat predictable, I found myself reading this book way past where I told myself I’d leave off.
However, the bad outweighs the good. The author is working on her PhD, and the novel reads like it’s written by someone working on their PhD; Howe tends to pontificate a lot about various aspects of early American life. The plot forces the reader to suspend their sense of disbelief. SPOILER ALERT: I wish that the author had chosen to describe Connie’s moment of discovering the book, rather than her just telling her mother (who doesn’t care, anyways) later. After all, the book is the lynchpin of the novel, right?
The prose is overwrought and occasionally makes no sense: (“It carried away a charred layer of skin from Connie’s fingers, coils of smoke drifting up from her hands as she squinted her eyes against the overweening consciousness of pain” (p. 352).). I liked the historical bits, but I wish there had been more of them, and more character development.
The leads me to another point: Howe’s characters in the present. For a Harvard student, Connie seemed kind of dumb. And I also didn’t “see” her attraction to Sam—he’s tattooed and pierced, while she’s extremely straitlaced (and sometimes I just wanted to tell Connie to light up already). The villain was a bit of a caricature, too, and the mother is the earth-mother stereotype.
No doubt this book will do very well, as Voice has apparently already spent quite a lot of money on publicity for this book. It’s easy for me to see why some people might like this book, though. The timeslip novel is not a new concept, but I wish that Howe had taken it and twisted it somehow.
Also reviewed by: Many a Quaint and Curious Volume, Medieval Bookworm, Devourer of Books, S. Krishna's Books, Shelf Love, The Burton Review