Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

carrying on with this review thing

[spoiler warning! yikes!]

“The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” by Katherine Howe pretty much jumped at me from off the shelf and so swung me into its world. Its loaded with of my favorite story elements: an old decrepit family house, a long family history of powerful, magical women, plenty of scholarly studies going on and last but not least, amore.
I am still impressed that this book had all this going on and still held a real soul at its center. “A book with a soul?” you might inquire. “Let me continue,” I say.
Many years ago, a dear professor let me know, as I studied magical realism in literature, that as northern caucasian women, we would never be able to write magical realism ourselves. Our culture, our history was all wrong for it. This made me furrow my brows but I saw her point. At the same time, I didn’t see her point at all. And I’d like to think that “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” is a good candidate for magical realism in Northern American culture. Women coming over from England (around the 1600’s) brought over a lot of folklore, a lot of remedies, some which were contained in grimoires and other writings. These remedies, while using various things in Nature, had a strong magical bent and were carried out by “cunning” women and men.
This book explores the fictional history of one line of “cunning” women and how the earlier ones related to God in Puritan culture. And I think this is where the soul of the book lies. Whether these women had magical powers or not is pointless but they did have something special whether it be special knowledge and a healing gift or whatever. They had the gifting and they used it to help others. Deliverance Dane believed that God had given her this gift to share and to her that’s the point of this life, to give the help we contain in ourselves to others.
Perhaps because of where I am in life, this spoke to me very deeply. And despite those years ago, I remember that same thread of thought running through the magical realism books I had read before by Allende and Morrison and others. Whether we believe in God or not, giving whatever (flavor of) magic we contain in ourselves is one of those best things.
I  also appreciate how Howe took the time and effort to put a strong and gifted woman into a very difficult culture and to really ponder out what could have plausibly happened to Deliverance Dane. And not only that but to ponder out Deliverance’s beliefs in everything that was going on around her. The ending is a sad one, of course because this is the time of the Salem witch trials but this book is a rare treat and one I’ll enjoy again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.