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HESTER by Laurie Lico Albanese


by Laurie Lico Albanese

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-2502-7855-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

This novel reimagines The Scarlet Letter from the point of view of a woman who might have inspired Hester Prynne.

Isobel Gamble is still a teenager when she emigrates from her native Scotland to Salem, Massachusetts, with her much older husband, Edward. Isobel comes from a long line of women with secret knowledge—her namesake is an ancestor known as Isobel Gowdie, Queen of Witches. But she’s been taught since childhood to mask such knowledge, including her synesthesia, a condition that lets her see colors associated with sounds and letters. She’s bent her energy to her skill at needlework, which has helped her support her family. With Edward, who’s an apothecary, she believed she’d made a good marriage—until they ended up in the poorhouse because of his drug use. Salem is their second chance, but almost as soon as they arrive, he turns around and goes back to sea as a medic, leaving her almost penniless. Isobel gets to work and finds support from some people in the community. She also gets to know a tall and handsome young fellow named Nat Hathorne, a man she saw the day she arrived in town. Isobel is a red-haired beauty, and Nat’s interest in her quickly turns into flirtation and more. The Salem witch trials are more than a century in the past, but Nat, an aspiring poet, is haunted by the role of his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, one of the most implacable judges in the trials. The trials haunt this book, too, woven through its story of Isobel, a woman who bears the bigotry of the town because she’s an immigrant and a woman whose husband may have deserted her. The author has incorporated plentiful research about the witch trials and, in Isobel’s present, the Underground Railroad. The rich details of life in Salem in the early 19th century, and especially about Isobel’s creative work as a seamstress and designer, enliven the tale.

Nathaniel Hawthorne plays an unexpected role in this lively fictional look at the origins of his masterpiece.