Review: Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

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Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. A twisting, tightly plotted thriller from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying novel of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.

Source: NetGalley and Doubleday Books Rating: 5 stars

**SLIGHTLY SPOILERISH**

This is my first five star read in a very long time and WOWZA does this book deserve it.

The Hour of the Witch revolves around the sad life of Mary Deerfield, a young, beautiful woman so far in over her head she can’t possibly survive in the situation she finds herself in. 

Mary Deerfield, at the ripe old age of 24 finds herself married to a monster.  What’s worse, the monster knows exactly how to present himself in public, so his ugly nature is never revealed to anyone but Mary.  With too much alcohol, the monster shows itself and Mary often pays the price in the form of beatings and forced sexual encounters.  Her time and place, 17th century Boston, dictate that Mary never speak against her husband nor report any of the abuse she suffers.  Even if she reported the abuse, the likelihood of being believed is very small.

Until one night . . . .

Mary understands her place in the world is tenuous, at best, but every human has limits and the night her beast of a husband stabs her hand with a fork, she reaches her limit.  Fleeing to parent’s house, Mary decides on a risky move that will, if successful free her from the hell she lives in.  Divorce in 17th century Boston wasn’t common and rarely ever was a case brought by a mere woman.  With legal help and her parents beside her, Mary submits herself to a trial in which her life with the beast is scrutinized, judged, and ultimately deemed satisfactory.

As if her life weren’t hard enough before the trial, Mary’s life has worsened tenfold.  Not only is her husband more violent and abusive than ever, but many in the town now look on Mary with nothing less than a suspicious eye.  A suspicious eye in Mary’s time and place means she is being watched for any signs of possession of congress with the Devil.  In short order, Mary realizes how precarious her situation really is and she begins to devise a plan to save her own life.

Saving her own life will come at a great and terrible cost, but Mary is more than willing to pay the price.  With allies she did not know she had and some that will surely see her accused of witchcraft, Mary works quietly and quickly to enact her plan.  Time is always of the essence and just as Mary feels she’s safe her whole world comes crashing down once again.   This time, even a deal with the Devil may not save her.

The Bottom Line:  I can’t say I devoured this book as it took me a bit of time to read, but I did find it utterly engrossing.  I greatly dislike books written in the vernacular, so I found myself spending a bit of extra time translating the dialogue in my head to my more modern dialect.  Outside of that single irritant, I absorbed this book like a sponge.  Every aspect of this book feels incredibly authentic and that makes Mary’s story even more compelling and tragic.  As a woman, I found it difficult to read Mary’s reality, but admired her strength and determination.  Above all else, I admired the courage it took for Mary to speak her truth in the face of insurmountable odds.  I was also quite glad to discover that I can still be surprised by a book and its ending.  I was thoroughly surprised by this book’s ending and found it ridiculously satisfying.  Finally, the writing of this book is exquisite and outside of the personal irritant of the vernacular, I loved the crafting of this book.

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