Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday, February 11, 2019: Maximum Shelf: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs

Henry Holt & Company: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe

Henry Holt & Company: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe

Henry Holt & Company: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe

Henry Holt & Company: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs

by Katherine Howe

Ten years after the publication of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe returns to her witchcraft specialist, Connie Goodwin, in another spellbinding adventure steeped in history, magic and suspense. As The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs opens, Connie is now a junior professor in Boston focused on securing tenure at her university. She has neither the time nor the energy for outside distractions, including disagreements with her significant other, Sam, over the status of their relationship. Mother Nature, however, laughs at Connie's plans: the ultra-driven career woman discovers she's pregnant.

The impending baby, combined with her teaching responsibilities and the work she must complete for tenure, would be overwhelming by itself, but Connie--the descendent of a woman hanged as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials--possesses supernatural abilities that come complete with a centuries-old family curse that puts Sam in grave danger. Connie's mother suggests ending their relationship, but Connie loves Sam. She's determined to break the curse, secure her job and have the baby: "Connie knew, with a certainty she had rarely felt in her life, that she could no more leave Sam than cut off her own leg.... She could fix this. She must." So Connie embarks on a research project of epic--and magical--proportions.  

Howe's latest genre-bending novel doesn't require any knowledge of her previous books, but still provides fans of Physick Book an exciting and satisfying continuation of Connie's story. Her devoted readers will recognize returning characters, including Connie's mother, Grace, and her constant companion, a dog-like character named Arlo, who both assist Connie in the search for a mystical recipe that's been carefully buried for generations--one with the power to stamp out the evil threatening her family but also so dangerous it could just as easily destroy them.

New to Howe's cast and Connie's life is a spirited young graduate student, Esperanza "Zazi" Molina. Zazi's adviser at Harvard is leaving, stranding Zazi at a pivotal point in her dissertation process. Zazi's focus is on American colonial history, as well as folk religions of the South and Southwest, so Connie is the perfect teacher to guide Zazi through her graduate work. Reluctantly she agrees, guilted into mentoring the young woman because she herself was in a similar situation as a student. Zazi becomes something of a partner in Connie's pursuit of the spell.

Zazi, like the other characters in this fantastical adventure, is vibrant and smart. She complements Connie and adds an additional layer to the novel's striking themes surrounding women and their abilities to weather the storms of life--literally and figuratively.

As Howe recounts Connie and Zazi's exploits in 21st-century New England, she also tells the stories of Connie's ancestors from the 17th and 18th centuries, including a woman in a portrait that hangs in Connie's grandmother's house: "In the candlelight she could see a tiny nameplate in the peeling gilt-edge frame. Temperance Hobbs. A wasp-waisted, slope-shouldered girl, brown hair in ringlets over her ears, with a yellowish terrier-like animal tucked under her arm. Her dress had at one time been pale pink, but had yellowed with age and varnish. She wore an unreadable expression. Not quite a smile." The struggles of these early American women help drive the novel's suspense, while Howe's knowledge of history delivers an authenticity that serves to make the plot even more gripping.

With poetic artistry and powerful imagery, Howe evokes striking atmosphere. She wraps her reader in the protective environs of the Goodwin family cottage: "Under the canopy of vines, the Milk Street house garden was turning in its sleep and stretching, stirring its feet under the coverlet of spring." And she just as easily chills the blood with a scene at sea in 1661: "Around her, Livvy heard the groans and creaks of the hull's wooden plankings, and the wind screaming in the rigging. It sounded like a woman's screams, if a woman's screams could rise and fall without her taking a breath. Under the groans she heard soft weeping, and above her, on deck, the beating of feet and the shouts of men."

Howe's seamless blending of fantasy, history, suspense and romance--coupled with vivid characters, dynamic tone and a thrilling pace--result in a riveting novel. She has clearly unearthed the magic recipe for crafting superb fiction, and readers will reap the rewards. --Jen Forbus

Holt, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781250304865, June 2019

Henry Holt & Company: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe

Katherine Howe: Bewitching History

photo: Nina Subin

Katherine Howe is the award-winning author of four previous novels and a nonfiction book. Her novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list and was named one of USA Today's Top 10 Books of 2009. Howe holds a BA in art history and philosophy from Columbia and an MA in American and New England studies from Boston University. A native Houstonian, she lives in New England and New York City. Her new novel, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, will be published by Holt in June 2019.

When you started your education path, what were your career aspirations?

After college I worked as a researcher for the Museum of Modern Art for two years, and then I went to graduate school to pursue a doctoral degree in American studies, with an emphasis on American visual and material culture--the images and objects of everyday life. My plan was to become a college professor. I loved the teaching and the research aspects of graduate work, but I found that I wanted to tell different kinds of stories from what academia would allow me to do. I left academia when my first novel came out. I feel privileged to be able to bring my graduate study to bear on my fiction writing.

In 2014 I published what would have been my doctoral dissertation as The Penguin Book of Witches, an edited volume of primary sources about witchcraft in England and North America. But I haven't fully left my old ways of thinking behind--every novel of mine has some work of art positioned in the middle of the story. Physick Book and Daughters both center on a portrait of a young woman hanging in Connie's grandmother's house.

Did you have any desire to pursue writing before your "thought experiment" that became The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane?

Definitely--I had wanted to be a creative writer since I was a child. I had always written, even if I wasn't working on anything in particular. Writing is how I process emotion and understand the world around me. It never occurred to me that that was something I could do for a job. I still sometimes look with disbelief on the trajectory my career has taken.

You have a personal connection to the Salem witch trials. Did that genealogy spark your interest in the idea of witchcraft and magic?

Initially, yes. I learned about two of them--Elizabeth Proctor and Elizabeth Howe--as a teen, when my aunt did genealogical research. Naturally, I thought it was the most metal thing ever. I didn't start thinking about witchcraft in a more structured, historical way until I moved to Marblehead, Mass., in 2005, halfway through grad school. Marblehead is right next door to Salem. I realized I'd never seen a story that took seriously the colonial belief in witchcraft. I knew the skeptical version of the story--The Crucible, for instance--and I knew more fantastical versions of witchcraft, like Harry Potter, but I couldn't think of a magical realist approach to the Salem witch trials.

That's where the story in Physick Book came from. I chose to fictionalize Deliverance Dane, even though she was a real person, in part because she played a very small role in the Salem story, and because her name was so evocative of a specific time and place and cultural context.

That's why the third witch in the family came as a real surprise. Years after Physick Book came out I was nosing around on a genealogy website, filling in some missing pieces, and who do I find but Deliverance Dane herself! She's my eighth-great grandmother, more closely related to me than the Elizabeths, even the one with my same last name. It's a truism among witchcraft scholars that studying this topic long enough is bound to make you superstitious. That's definitely been my experience.

In your research, have you interacted with modern-day practitioners of witchcraft?

Yes, I have been fortunate to hear from many members of the Pagan and Wiccan communities over the years. One thing that moves me about these readers is how deeply those I have heard from feel a sense of solidarity with the past. Modern-day witchcraft is, perhaps counterintuitively, a contemporary syncretic religion, but virtually everyone I have encountered feels a deeply personal connection to people who were persecuted as witches in the past. As a history person, I am excited whenever I meet someone who is passionate about learning about the past, particularly when that past is as culturally or religiously remote from the moment we are living in today as Salem.

You introduced Connie Goodwin in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane in 2009. Did you always intend to continue her story?

I definitely wanted to continue Connie's story, both because I am partial to her, but also because I came up with an entire genealogy for her family when outlining the first novel, and I thought it would be fun to explore some of the other women in her timeline. But other projects always seemed to get in the way. I'm excited now to be able to expand the world that I made in Physick Book.

Connie learns about a powerful recipe in The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs with very specific and very interesting ingredients. Where did that come from?

I got the basics of that recipe from a rare 18th-century book about folklore in Britain and North America that is held in the New York Public Library. Without giving too much away, I knew that I wanted to deal with a recipe for that kind of witchcraft because it has historically played such a huge role in our conceptions of what witches are able to do. Any pop-culture representation of witchcraft, be it a medieval German woodcut or a Harry Potter film, addresses this variety of magic. I alluded to it only glancingly in Physick Book, and I was really excited to explore it in Daughters. But I think it's a bit of an open question as to how the recipe works, or indeed if it works at all.

You've also published a YA novel, Conversion. How does writing for young adults compare to adult fiction?

It might not be immediately obvious, but Conversion is also set in Physick's world. My main character, Colleen, is trying to solve an outbreak at her high school that looks an awful lot like what happened in Salem in 1692, so that book examines the Salem story from the afflicted girls' perspective, rather than from the witches' perspective. I really enjoyed writing YA, partly because the point of view is more constrained. We see the entire story from inside the teenagers' perspectives, so when I write YA I naturally gravitate to writing in first person. That voice feels more immediate to me, in the self-preoccupied, intense and dramatic way that most of us feel when we are in our teens and 20s.

And finally, what's next for you now?

I'm plotting and scheming. And learning how to read tarot cards, just in case. --Jen Forbus

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