This historical novel tells the story of Moore’s (An Ocean Away, 2017, etc.) ancestor, who was hanged for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 17th century.
Susannah Martin (nee North, 1621–1692) was one of the 20 people, including 14 women, who were executed in the infamous Salem witchcraft trials. This novel begins in 1692 as she, along with others awaiting trial—including a 4-year-old girl—languish uncomfortably for three months in Salem Jail. In flashbacks, Susannah remembers her past, beginning in 1646. She was 25 then, living in Salisbury, Massachusetts, still a spinster, and looking to stay that way—until a handsome young widower, George Martin, moved to a neighboring farm. He flirted with her, but she didn’t believe that he was truly interested, because she considered herself “plain, short, and too round.” As the novel traces their courtship, Susannah’s early rebuffs of George’s flirtations reveal her prickly, stubborn personality, a lifelong characteristic: “Calling me a troublemaker is highly accurate,” she notes. “I’ve never been one to keep my opinions to myself.” She was first accused of witchcraft in 1669 (the charges were dropped, but Susannah’s reputation was damaged); later, she and George became embroiled in several lawsuits and court battles with the local Putnam family, losing many decisions. After her husband’s death, Susannah was impoverished, leaving her vulnerable, and on July 19, 1692, she and four others were executed by hanging. Moore does a good job of illustrating her ancestor’s predicament. Susannah’s own words, from real-life trial records, are especially affecting, such as when she laughs at the fits of her accusers, who were young girls: “Well I may at such folly.” However, the couple’s many scenes of courtship become repetitive, smacking of high school dating with its jealousies and snits. Although the book appears well-researched, for the most part, its version of Puritanism can seem ahistorical, allowing such things as loose hair and dancing. And although Moore calls out the issues that led to the accusations, such as the Putnam family’s money, power, and greed for land, she pays little attention to the accusers themselves, and what, besides their parents’ political interests, led to their mass hysteria.
A relatable account of a shameful episode in American history, although its sensibility seems overly modern at times.