Book Review Friday!

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Katherine Howe
Voice, 384 pages, $26.00

This has been on my to-do list since it came out a year ago.  I finally picked up a copy earlier this week with the intention of bringing it with me to NASSR at the end of August.  Being my procrastinating self, however, I decided to start reading it in lieu of more pressing matters, i.e. writing.

Overall, I found the book to be enjoyable.  The book was a manageable size, a fact I appreciate after slugging through Justin Cronin’s The Passage (more on that in a later post).  Nevertheless, like other novels written about academia, the novel reeked of hand-wringing, graduate student terror.  In that sense, the novel had much in common with The Historian, but Elizabeth Kostova was much better at balancing the suspense, mystery, and supernatural elements with the artificial “found manuscript” premise.

Perhaps I should be less picky.  I myself am in the midst of comprehensive exam and dissertation terrors, so my distaste at some of the graduate student elements of the plot could be in part due to my own neurosis.  Howe has done a great job of capturing the psyche of the research assistant.  Yet, I did not find Connie’s growth to be quite believable.  After acknowledging her estranged relationship with her mother, the two of them seem oddly close by the end of the novel.  Her relationship with Sam, while creating warm fuzzies throughout the book, seemed rushed.  Their relationship reminded me of the driving force in Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic (a book with which this novel has much in common). 

But as I stated at the start of this review, the problems I had with this book did not prevent me from enjoying the story.  Howe does a wonderful job of interweaving moments from the seventeenth century, and she provides an excellent snapshot of the emergence of feminist theory in academia.  I will be interested to see what Howe writes next – assuming she continues to write fiction.

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