Sunday, February 27, 2022

Hour of the Witch

  Hour of the Witch
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0385542437 / 978-0385542432

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was always possible that the Devil was present."

Favorite Quote:  "There were  people in the world who were good and people who were evil, but most of them were some mixture of both and did what they did simply because they were mortal. And her Lord? ... He knew it all and had known it all and always would know it all."

A young woman. An only daughter. An educated woman. An abusive marriage. No children. An appeal for divorce. A Puritan town looking for signs of anyone breaking tradition and anyone different. A charge of witchcraft.

This is Mary Deerfield's life in 1600s Boston. She and her family arrive in Boston when Mary is a teenager. Her father is a respected and wealthy businessman - a shipper and an importer of goods. Mary tries to play by the rules. She is a dutiful daughter. She is dutiful wife, hiding evidence of her husband's abuse. Yet, her power of independent thinking does not go well in this town. That combined with Mary's supposed friendship with suspicious persons - a supposed witch and a man who is not her husband - lead to suspicions about Mary herself. She pushes the boundary even further when escalating abuse causes her to file a petition of divorce from her husband. The issue escalates even more so when a series of circumstances lead to an accusation of witchcraft.

This book has all the elements I love about Chris Bohjalian's books. The history is researched and real. According to author interviews, the idea for this book originated in the case of Katherine Nanny Naylor in front of the Boston Court of Assistants in 1672. The case stands out because Nanny Naylor filed for and was able to win a divorce from her husband. She spend the rest of her life living independently. The records of the case can still be found in the Massachusetts Archives Collection. Interestingly, in 1992, archeologists discovered the privy of her home in Boston. Because of the wealth of artifacts found in the privy, the discovery is considered one of the most significant ones from the early colonial period.

Fascinating history aside, the book is at the same time fiction and tells a story that keeps me rapidly turning pages from beginning to the end. The characters - especially Mary herself - are well drawn and the history is so brought to life through them that I think surely, they must be real themselves. The one thing I could have done without is Mary's repeated thoughts about men and about sexual pleasure. For me, that distracts from the story about Mary's rise as a woman.

What I might expect of this book is the story of Puritan New England and a male dominated society. Yet, this book is really the story of the women. It is about the individual strength of Mary herself. It is also about the women who surround her - those who would tear each other down and those who would lift each other up.

By the nature of the time and place, the men play key, visible roles. "This may be the hour of the witch. But the Devil? He most definitely wears breeches. The Devil can only be a man." However, it is the women on whom the story and its final conclusion rests.

The epilogue ending was what I expected given the times. However, I do wish the book had ended with the strength of the women without that add on.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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