Connie Goodwin thinks her main conflict is her prickly Harvard doctoral mentor, Professor Manning Chilton, but she finds worse than that in her family's Puritan ancestry while researching to become a professor and finding love. Connie, a historian of "American Colonial Life" is tasked with discovering new angles and a new primary source for her dissertation topic. Chilton seems overly hopeful that her topic will benefit his own studies, which he will be presenting at the Colonial Association Conference in September. Connie's mother, a leftover hippie, seems sadly detached from and disinterested in Connie's work. Still, Connie keeps her updated as the research takes her back to her grandmother's small New England town, Wonderment, Marblehead, Massachusetts. Once there, Connie finds her grandmother's house, completely overgrown with weeds and herbs and oddly without any updates; there is no electricity, refrigeration, or phone. The setting darkens as Connie's dog discovers a Mandrake root, extremely poisonous and known to be harbingers of death in much folklore. This foreshadows the potentially sinister tone that haunts much of the rest of the book. This is further supported when Connie finds, in the family Bible, a key and a slip of paper secreted in it with the name Deliverance Dane on it. In looking through the house, Connie also finds an old recipe book.
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Connie's progress is regularly punctuated with an "interlude" of story line from the seventeenth century about people in Salem Town, Massachusetts. One Goody Dane is experiencing isolation and persecution over the belief that she and/or her daughter could be involved with witchcraft. Readers can conclude that eventually these two plots will connect on some plane, and they do.
As Connie investigates the name she found in the key with Chilton, he persuades her to pursue her curiosity, as it may lead to the primary source and research topic she needs. She ends up living at the grandmother's dilapidated, creepy house as she researches. While finding museums that house the information she seeks, she meets Sam, a steeplejack who has his master's degree in Preservation Studies, but finds this work more to his taste. He becomes her love interest and support as she digs up that Deliverance was a witch, and tenaciously seeks more about her, including her "recipe book." This investigation even leads to supernatural threats toward both Connie and Sam. Connie's grandmother's house hosts an insignia that appears on her door. Sam becomes deathly ill, but no doctor can diagnose him. Ironically, the book she already has in her grandmother's house instructs her to have abilities she has never know anyone to have before.
Connie's character lets readers in on what she finds in research, and how museums and libraries handle rare editions. As a result, readers discover the same things Connie does, right along with her. This includes information about the Salem Witch Trials, some of which agrees with what is depicted in The Crucible.
The "interlude" chapters of Goody and Deliverance's days and treatment offer the "witch's" perspective on activities those citizens may have used or thought in order to survive. Readers are reminded of how Puritans named their children after virtues. Therefore, readers can deduce right along with Connie, eventually, that "Connie" is short for "Constance" and her hippie mother, whose name is Grace, is simply more in touch with her spiritual side and hopes her daughter will find that too, instead of the rat race and pressures of high academia. Those pressures grow as Chilton begins chasing the primary source for himself, competing with Connie with a ferocity that has nothing to do with a doctorate degree.
Best part of story, including ending:
I kept reading to see how the Salem Witch Trials were woven into this new text. (It is the author's debut novel.) I loved the historical connection between author and characters. I did not like that it offered a sympathetic view of witchcraft, which according to this is just another gift that some have.
Best scene in story:
The scene in which Chilton, her professor, her mentor, is racing Connie to find the book, through stacks of old, stuffy, strictly supervised stacks is my favorite. It signifies the importance of all those old texts and that they could be relevant enough to stir such drama. He hides from her, the lights are turned off, and when they come back on, there he is like a stalker. Chilling.
Opinion about the main character:
Connie seems very stiff about being with people at first, unless she's teaching them. It makes those who are studious seem so anti-social and uncomfortable with life. The fact that it rings a bit true but hits a nerve is the problem.