Science and superstition clash over a macabre 19th-century folk remedy for tuberculosis in this tale of an orphaned farm lad...

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THE APPRENTICESHIP OF LUCAS WHITAKER

Science and superstition clash over a macabre 19th-century folk remedy for tuberculosis in this tale of an orphaned farm lad taken on by a skeptical apothecary. After his entire family is lost to ""consumption,"" Lucas numbly wanders the Connecticut countryside, washing up at last in the home of Uriah M. Beecher, self-described ""doctor, dentist, apothecary, barber, and, when all else fails, undertaker."" Beecher exercises each of his functions on various townsfolk as Lucas, an enthralled student, looks on. They part company, though, over a widespread rumor: that the first in a family to die of consumption rises up at night to draw the life from others, and that burning the heart of the ""undead"" one, breathing its smoke and eating its ashes, will cure the sick and confer immunity. Lucas, troubled not just by his argument with Beecher (whose own ideas about disease are quite modern-sounding), but by the thought that he might have saved at least some of his own family, makes a vulnerable protagonist, as DeFelice (Lostman's River, 1994, etc.) conveys with feeling how desperation and ignorance can lend plausibility to the wildest tales. Despite the stock cast, her point is well made; the inclusion of corpses and exhumations, though not described in detail, adds--for some readers--an appealingly grisly touch. Foreword and afterword.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 1996

ISBN: 0374400148

Page Count: 151

Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996