I decided to stop torturing myself with Barry Denenberg novels for a bit, so here’s a genuinely very good book.
I Walk In Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness To the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1691. Lisa Rowe Fraustino, 2004.
By the time this one came out I was a little bit too old, so I didn’t discover this one until I re-discovered the Dear America novels in my 20s. (And very glad to do so!) Which is a shame, because it’s definitely one of the best novels in the series. It touches on a lot of the issues that historians think the witch trials may have actually been caused by—economic stress, inter-familial problems, and so on—but it’s handled in a very deft way that a teenager would probably understand (but actually, a teenager reading for the first time probably wouldn’t pick up on it, so it’s a bit of Adult Reader Bonus, and even in the historical note at the end it’s not as extensive as one might though).
Deliverance, or Liv, the narrator, finds her diary by accident by stumbling across it in the cellar of the home she shares with her sister. (This is neat, actually, because a lot of the DA books start out with girls getting the books as a gift, so this is a nice little change.) They’ve been living with their uncle on his farm, but he went off to sign onto a whaling ship and left them alone with instructions to, well, not lie exactly, but not really to tell anyone that he’d gone away. Liv doesn’t always get along with her 17-year-old sister, Remembrance, so she’s glad to have a book to write in as a friend. Their older brother Benjamin is off with the militia and they haven’t seen him, so they’re fairly lonely out on the edges of Salem Village.
Susannah Sheldon, Mem’s closest friend, comes by to get apples out of their cellar and generally hang out with Mem, who is fairly weak and asthmatic and isn’t always able to get out to the village. While Liv is off doing chores, Mem and Susannah make a venus glass, which is suspending the innards of an egg into a glass of water and seeing what kind of shapes it makes to tell fortunes. Liv freaks out at the white magic and tells them off, to which they roll their eyes all “ugh, little sisters,” as you do. One of my favourite parts of this book is how well-written the dynamic between the two sisters is—it’s quite loving and close, since they rely on each other so much, but a healthy dose of bitching and complaining as befits two teenage sisters.
Just after New Year’s, a terrific snowstorm blows into town, and strands the girls at home instead of going to church. Later that evening, a man and his grown son knock on their door and ask to stay there for the night, and the girls play off their uncle’s absence like he got stranded somewhere in the snow. You kind of get the feeling that Mem is not a fantastic actor, either. She immediately develops a gigantic crush on Mr. Cooper, Senior, and is incredibly delighted that they stay over another night while the storm keeps raging. After a few days they leave, and Mem spends the rest of the week losing her mind about how amazing Mr. Cooper is, and how handsome and smart and wealthy he is.
So Liv is pretty frustrated and sick of her sister the next Sunday when she goes to meeting, and is finally able to socialize with other girls her age—Ann Putnam, Abigail Williams, Mercy Lewis, and a few others. (They are going to get important.) But Liv embarrasses herself when they’re all playing at scratching in the dirt by writing her own name, and Mem doesn’t know how to explain to her that she’s come across like a big snob. Poor Liv doesn’t really understand why she’s not able to be friends with the other girls, and it’s really realistic and painful to read.
A couple of weeks later, Sarah Goode comes by with her daughter Dorcas, and even though the girls don’t want to let them in the house, they do. Everyone in Salem derides Sarah as a witch, because she’s dirty and filthy and talks to herself and all that other general hobo-like stuff. That same week when they go to meeting, they see Betty Parris, the reverend’s niece, twisting herself under a chair like she’s playing a game. Gossip starts running in the tavern about witchcraft until Goody Corey stands up and starts giving the catechism until everyone else shuts up. But Goody Corey, who is a bit of an outcast herself for being smart enough to not take shit from anyone, takes a liking to Liv and asks her to come over to the Corey farm to read to her while she works.
So Liv starts going over to the Corey farm every week or so to read from a captivity diary (which is a terrifically on-point historical note, because they were insanely popular in villages), and since Liv’s stepmother was kidnapped during a raid, it’s particularly poignant to her. But when she gets home from the Corey farm one afternoon, Mem is sick (sick for real, not “malingering to avoid doing work” sick), and Liv is very worried. After a couple of days, the news that Mem is sick gets out, and a whole bunch of people turn up to sit by her bed. Liv is confused by this, since Mem is just run-of-the-mill sick, and even more so when one little kid is like “This sucks and is boring, when is she going to start screaming blasphemies?” and as it turns out, when everyone heard Mem was “afflicted,” they all kind of assumed she had whatever was troubling Betty Parris and her other little friends, where they twist themselves up and curse.
Mem is still ill after a week or so, but Liv goes to town to church and sees the Coopers there in meeting with them, much to her surprise! They’re very keen to meet the girls’ uncle, which Mem automatically interprets as thinking that Mr. Cooper Senior wants to court her, but Liv is more preoccupied with hearing about how Betty and Abigail are apparently being tortured by something no one can see. But because Mem can’t go anywhere, Goody Corey and her stepdaughters come to visit so Liv can read to all of them. Goody Corey thinks that the Indians aren’t all automatically evil people, which Liv finds extremely hard to believe and understand (which is understandable, since her entire experience with them has been having them raid her homestead and kidnap her stepmother), and it’s a really nice way of introducing the idea that stress between Indians and settlers was a contributing factor to the witch craze.
The Coopers stop by to visit again in a couple of weeks, and they’re pretty irritated to find that the girls’ uncle is mysteriously absent again, so they leave him a note asking him to discuss the possibility of a “major decision,” and Mem is absolutely convinced they want to marry her. But again, Liv is too busy fretting over Abigail and Betty. They’ve magically been “opened” to the Spirit World, and claim they can see the people who are tormenting them, and Ann Putnam and Elizabeth Hubbard, another friend of theirs, become “afflicted” as well.
Liv goes over to the Corey farm to read, where the topic of discussion is these afflicted girls (as usual), and Goody Corey’s husband says he believes that one of the women is a sinner and a witch because she lived with her husband before getting married. But Goody Corey is pretty taken aback by this, since between her separation from her first husband and her marriage to Corey, she had a “mulatto son, Ben,” but this didn’t stop her from becoming a Church member. I want to read more about Goody Corey, she sounds interesting.
By March, three of the accused witches have been arrested and they set a trial for witchcraft. The women say that they have done nothing to be accused for, but the afflicted girls screech and weep and sob that they are being tortured. But Tituba, the enslaved woman from Barbados, claims that the Devil comes to her and forces her to serve him, and then claims she is afflicted herself just like the other girls. This is all the talk of the village, and no one can even consider anything else—everyone is transfixed by the trial.
At meeting that week, Goody Corey admits that she doesn’t believe the girls are really afflicted, they’re just faking, and that’s why she doesn’t go to the examinations of the trial. Liv doesn’t know who to believe—her sister, who is swallowing this all hook line and sinker, or Goody Corey, who she readily admits is the smartest woman she’s ever met. Liv starts dreaming that she has a baby with the face of Sarah Goode, one of the accused, and later the faces of Sarah Osborn and Goody Corey—and the babies’ names are Truth, Mercy, and Honor. She starts panicking that this is the first sign of her becoming a witch as well, and then they have more trouble when the landlord notifies them if their uncle doesn’t pay the rent they’ll be out by the end of March. So they write to Benjamin, hoping it’ll get there in time.
Goody Corey knows she’s going to be accused next, and Liv confesses all her dreams to her, and that very day some men come by to notify Goody Corey that the girls have named her as a witch. More girls become “afflicted,” but Betty Parris is sent away to live with her uncle until she recovers. The Coopers stop by and leave another note, but this one is saying that they’d like to have Liv’s uncle work in their barrel-making shop. But Mem absolutely loses her mind over this, because she was so dearly hoping for a proposal. Poor girl.
Anyway, more girls are afflicted, and accuse Goody Nurse, the “head matron of a large and prominent family,” who is elderly and frail as well. Goody Corey tells Liv not to come to her farm any more, that it’s too dangerous, and she packs her off with all kinds of meat and eggs, which Liv hides in case they need it to pay the rent. Mem goes to all of the trials, but Liv is too afraid to watch them. In meeting, Abigail shouts aloud at the minister, and generally does as she pleases, and everyone is too afraid of the witches to say anything to her!
When Goody Corey’s trial comes around, Liv goes for the last time. The girls tell everyone that she is tormenting them, and Mem even stands up and accuses Godoy Corey of saying devil’s prayers to keep her sick. The next day, Mem asks why Liv is so quiet and upset, and asks if Goody Corey hexed her, and Liv hurls the Bible she had been reading from at her sister. Mem leaves, saying she’s terrified that Liv is on her way to becoming a witch, and when she comes back she says that Liv had better be in meeting because the minister is going to discuss witches (shocking). So she ends up going to the next examination, and it’s just horribly depressing, with the examiners trying to get 80-year-old Goodman Corey to condemn his wife, and trying the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Goode as a witch. And even Liv finds herself getting drawn into the terrible fervor of the crowd, and then regrets it.
Mem feels riddled with guilt about making the venus glass with Susannah, and is convinced it made her sick and has kept her uncle away and condemned them to eviction. And while Liv doesn’t know if that’s the case, she is just as worried about what they’re going to do at the end of March. “Mem does not lose sleep over these things as I do. She believes the Lord will provide for us. That is true, but the Lord will not come down to Earth and put the money into the palm of the landlord.” I laughed. A LOT.
The very next day Darcy Cooper comes by and mumbles to Mem if it would be acceptable to come courting, to which she agrees happily because she thinks he means for his father. But Darcy is so pleased that he tells Mem that his father will be so happy, and then Mem just up and faints. When she gets up, Liv tells her that she’s stupid to turn him down just because he’s ugly, because he’s well-to-do and kind and smart, and Mem calls her a witch [teenage girls not being known for their reasoned responses to things], and they have an out-and-out fight, scrapping on the floor, and Liv wins and tells Mem she better not say that ever again.
And Liv does have to go to the tavern to sell the meat Goody Corey gave her, which is enough to get them through the next month. While she’s there, she hears that the girls have been spending a lot of time together and probably confabulating their stories together. Curiouser and curiouser?
A couple of days later, Darcy’s sister comes by for a visit. Darcy asks where their uncle is, and Liv confesses the whole thing to both of them, and Darcy insists that they come back to live with them. But just as they’re saying it, Mem stomps in with Benjamin, of all people, and they have a confused reunion right there in the kitchen. Darcy goes off to the coast to see if he can learn anything about their uncle, and Benjamin gives Darcy permission to court Mem, and Mem goes to bed weeping in despair.
The next week, Mary Warren posts a note saying that she’s been delivered from her affliction, and the Proctors have never believed her and accused her of trying to bring out innocent people—and Mary just up and tells them that the girls are all lying! But then the question is whether they’re doing it for fun, or because they truly believe it? And then just the next day, Mary recants and says a witch tortured her that evening—and another one of the girls says the Proctors come to torture her as witches. Suspicious, no? Or is it just a coincidence?
Mem continues to go to the trials and Liv continues to stay away, finding it too horrible to listen to. But Mem convinces Benjamin that they need to go, and insists. Darcy doesn’t come around the next weekend, since he’s still looking for their uncle, and Benjamin tells Mem that she better straighten up and act like she likes him, because she’s not going to get such a good chance again. At the trials, though, Tituba’s husband John Indian says that he’s become afflicted as well, and they roll around on the floor spasming and saying the witches are all around them.
And then Darcy does turn up—with news that their uncle signed onto a ship that was due back weeks and weeks ago, but has been presumed sunk. Now that there’s no barrier, Mem is depressed at the thought of having to marry Darcy (again). The trials kept going on, and Benjamin is waffling over whether or not he believes the girls.
And that weekend, Darcy turns up with a wagon full of people and stuff—children and men and women, food and tables and a pig roasting on the way, dishes and silverware and pots and pans, and an elderly man in a chair—the Cooper patriarch. So they have a big feast at the girls’ place, all eight of Darcy’s siblings and their children, and some aunts and uncles and cousins and—oh yes—Mr. Cooper Senior and his fiancé. Seeing this, Mem tries so hard to not let things get to her, but goes on a little walk with Darcy herself, and it’s pretty sad. After they all pack up and leave, Mem yells at Ben that the only reason Darcy wants to marry her is so his older brother can get married, too, and Benjamin finally tells her that he won’t force her to marry him if she’s really that upset about it.
They have another fight that weekend about the trials, and when Benjamin pulls them apart, Mem yells that Liv doesn’t even believe in witches, and Liv says that she doesn’t believe in them any more—“Why would the Devil need the magic of witches to do his work when he has plenty of stupid people to do it for him” Truth.
The next week, Mem finds Liv’s journal by mistake, and because Mem can’t read, she’s convinced that Liv is a witch and it’s the Devil’s book. Liv tries to convince her that it’s just a journal, and Mem says that she shouldn’t have any secrets from her sister, and if she doesn’t tell her what’s in it, she’ll take it to the minister. So Liv says she’ll be sorry if she does, since she wrote about the venus glass and the Coopers, and Mem finally agrees to let Liv read it to her.
The next day, Mem’s friend Susannah says she sees Philip English as a wizard—a man who is a wealthy French merchant, and Susannah hates the French for killing her uncle. Coincidence? Mem begins to grow less and less convinced. Darcy stops by and asks them to move to Haveril, since people are talking about the witches all over the place and he’s convinced it’s dangerous for them. He offers the barrelmaking position to Benjamin instead, and he says they’ll think about it. All the while Liv is reading her journal to Liv, Mem gets more and more skeptical about the witches, until they get to the end.
The next day, Mem declares that she is packing to move to Haveril, with or without them, and Darcy comes by the next day to load up all of their things. When he arrives, Mem says that she doesn’t feel right about joining their family without a dowry—but her dowry is going to be her sister, who can spin and garden and keep accounts for both of them in their new business.
In the epilogue, we learn that Mem and Darcy were married the next week, and a couple of babies follow shortly after. Mem dies a few years later, and Liv remarries Darcy and has seven of her own. But meanwhile in Salem, the witches who confessed to their witchcraft were allowed to live, and those who denied were sent to the gallows. Martha Corey was hanged in September and maintained her innocence to the last.
Rating: A. I really love this one. I love that the trials are treated not as a monolithic thing that overwhelmed everyone, but that there was a lot of discussion and dissent about them, and that there were a lot of factors influencing who was accused—social status, wealth, relationships between families, and so on. I love that it’s intertwined so nicely with the story of Liv and her sister, instead of just a blanket retelling of the witch trials themselves. Mem and Liv are both well-drawn and fully realized characters, with flaws and good points, and it’s a real delight to read. Right up there in my Top 5.