By: Chris Bohjalian
Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old and the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in this Puritan culture where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a strong-willed woman like Mary soon finds herself the target of suspicion and rumor.
Things take a turn for the worse when evil objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, and their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home accusing Mary of killing her recently deceased brother with witchcraft. Now Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows.
The most terrifying part of Hour of the Witch is how much truth is contained in its pages. The reader knows that Mary is innocent of the crimes she is being accused and that she is telling the truth about the abuse she receives from her husband. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how much she speaks of the torment she has endured since the only members of her community who believe her claims are her parents. I think many of us can attest that one of the worst feelings in the world is telling the truth and no one believing you. Imagine that your friends, neighbors, and even government officials are ready to condemn you for unsubstantiated rumors simply out of fear. That’s Mary’s lot and her legitimate claims and accusations against her husband go ignored because she is a woman fighting against a man in a male dominated society.
This narrative also takes place in the 17th century when every Bible thumper believed the devil was a tangible being that could take possession of your body and mind simply for having impure thoughts. It didn’t matter if you went to church or performed charitable works in your community. You could outwardly be the saintliest person to have ever lived and people could still get you hanged as a witch if they didn’t like you. In other words, it was one of the worst times to exist in American history as a woman.
This story will be painful for any woman who decides to read it especially if you have endured emotional/physical abuse from a partner. That’s really my only warning to you. There are many harsh truths about what these women dealt with and the extent of the violence they suffered. Bohjailian will tell you to expect dread. In an interview he states, “I am the least mindful, most anxious person on the planet. When my books work…they are all about dread. That’s what keep you turning the pages in one of my novels.”
Regardless if you are interested in the feminist message of the novel, I would recommend reading it for the deep dive into Puritan culture. There’s so much history that Bohjalian brought out in this novel through exhaustive research, and I couldn’t be more impressed with his dedication to historical accuracy. He even lists his sources in his acknowledgement section which was unique and appreciated. You may also enjoy Hour of the Witch if you are a fan of legal thrillers or the Salem witch trials (which might go without saying but I said it anyway).
Overall rating: 4.5