Old New York shows its magic and its darkness in McKay’s (The Virgin Cure, 2012, etc.) latest novel.
It wasn’t easy for 17-year-old Beatrice Dunn to make it to Manhattan in 1880, but she experienced a pull to the city that felt otherworldly. Open to witchcraft and magic, Beatrice makes her way to Tea and Sympathy, a small tea shop near Madison Square Park that specializes in more than just the newest brew. Its owners, Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair, provide a variety of services to their predominantly female clientele, including access to marital aids and abortifacients. While the women who come into the shop are seeking the means to control their own destinies, the shop’s unique product line makes it a target of religious fanatics and zealots aiming to rid the world of evil and witchcraft. The atmosphere becomes even more dangerous with Beatrice’s arrival; it is discovered that she possesses the power to communicate with the dead. Though Adelaide and Eleanor help her learn the intricacies of her gift, her ability places her in grave danger. With a remarkable cast of characters—from the obsessive and maniacal Rev. Townsend, who aims to rid society of witchcraft, and the occasionally helpful ghost of his victim, suspected witch Lena McLeod, to the talking raven, Perdu, and a cast of mysterious and meddlesome creatures called Dearlies who inhabit the tea shop—McKay has crafted a stunning work that bridges the gap between historical and contemporary women's issues. The novel is ambitious in its scope yet still delves deep into the thoughts and motivations of characters who normally exist on society's outskirts—or even beyond the earthly realm. Working alongside the women’s suffrage movement, these “witches” demonstrate that there are many routes to take toward freedom and autonomy. While Tea and Sympathy seeks to be a refuge for women in need, paranoia and fear of the unknown are sweeping through the city’s most devoutly religious circles. The novel is brimming with the spirits of those who have been lost to others' devotion and fear, and McKay's elegant prose bridges the gap between the real world and the spiritual realm with skill and compassion.
A sprawling tale of persecution and hysteria set in the vivid world of New York City’s Victorian era.