Hour of the Witch

I have read a lot of other books by Chris Bohjalian.  Some I loved some I liked and one I could not finish.  My top three are The Light in the Ruins, The Double Bind and Hour of the Witch.  I continue to be so impressed by his ability to write from the female perspective.  Each of the above books were so well crafted that you become immediately absorbed in the characters and the need to find out what happens to them.  It is possible that some people will overlook this book because it sounds like another story about the Salem Witch Trials.  But those people would be making a huge mistake, huge.  First of all, the setting is Boston just as the witch-hunt begins in Connecticut and before the Salem trials began.  Mary Deerfield is conceived as a smart, strong willed woman who tries to conform to the expectation of women at that time, but still cannot understand why men are allowed so much leniency while women are held to such a high standard.  The story begins quickly and sets the tone for Mary’s life with Thomas, and you can immediately see how this mirrors the life of those women stuck in an abusive relationship today.  As she moves forward, she begins to realize that her world is shifting; in the way Thomas treats her, her relationship with her indentured girl Catherine and the attitude of the women like Goody Howland who believe they are godlier than Mary.  And while Mary tries to follow all of the rules and be a faithful Christian, she also has more human feelings such as lust and desire – and she struggles to understand if this is normal or if she in fact is being tempted by the devil.  It is refreshing to read a book that is about the witch hysteria and see that these women were not only victims, but they had “normal” urges and feelings and had only the view of the men to define what was “of God” and what was not.   While it is almost impossible to imagine that any woman would have pursued a divorce at that time, it is a compelling story and highlights how women were treated then, and through the years, when they decided to stand up for themselves especially against abuse.  Even her mother and father want her to fall in line before her behavior results in charges of witchcraft.  Of all the women in the story, Constance stands out because she lives alone and maintains a comfortable life without a man, even though she too is persecuted and looked down on by the community. Constance understands that these men do not have her best interest in mind and charts her own path, while somehow managing to not be hanged as a witch. I read this book in one day because I simply had to find out if Mary died or if she found happiness with Henry Simmons.  I encourage you to read this so you too can be transported back to a time in which women had little voice and little chance of happiness (or at least how we define happiness today) and were casually persecuted for being a nonconformist or merely standing up for themselves.  I feel so very lucky to have been approved to read an ARC of this book by the publisher, Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review.

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