A first-time novelist recreates her family’s involvement in the Salem witch trials.
On August 19, 1692, Martha Carrier was hanged. She was one of the first women convicted of witchcraft amidst the hysteria that started in Salem and spread throughout Massachusetts. Kent is a tenth-generation descendent of Carrier, and, in this novel, she looks at this troubled time through the eyes of Martha’s daughter. As Sarah Carrier tells her story, she creates a vivid portrait of the harsh, hard-headed woman who was her mother. When the story begins, Sarah begrudges her mother’s stubbornness and severity. She knows that the neighbors resent Martha’s sharp tongue, and Martha’s unyielding attitude toward her sister’s husband means that Sarah is separated from her beloved cousin. When petty village feuds turn into whispered rumors about Martha’s dealings with the devil, Martha remains steadfast in her protestations of innocence, and Sarah learns that her mother’s willfulness is the product of integrity, courage and fierce individuality. Sarah learns, in fact, that the very qualities that condemned her mother redeemed her as well. The story Kent tells—of a powerful woman punished by a society that fears and hates women—is not a new one. It’s not a bad one, either, but this particular iteration is not one of the most compelling. One problem is that Sarah is one of the less remarkable characters in the novel. Both her parents are substantially more intriguing and would have made for dynamic central characters. In fact, Kent seems to have a general problem with distinguishing between the interesting and the uninteresting. The pace of her narrative slows to a crawl, offering lyrical, metaphor-laden, mostly unilluminating descriptions of the natural world. And her practice of breaking the novel into little sections that inevitably end on a portentous note give the story a leaden, numbing rhythm.
Serviceable, if unexciting, historical fiction with a feminist perspective.