(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer OCT 13, 2002)
"He was watching her, and there was an intensity in his gaze. His hand was clenched around the tankard so tightly that even in the candlelight I could see the whites of his knuckles. I felt as if I'd intruded on a moment so private not even he knew it existed, and I looked away quickly, ashamed and disturbed, though I had no idea why. For no reason I could say, I thought of Sammy, of his large and loving hands. I felt a longing for him. The Window to my soul was opening ever wider, and now I feared for my father as well. The Devil was called 'the price of the air' and I knew why. I felt him in every breath of wind."
The 1692 Salem Witch Trials are one of the strangest and most horrifying events in UShistory. Hundreds of people were accused, nineteen of which were hung, and one, Giles Corey, was pressed to death. This horror is made worse by the fact that it was started by a group of young women, whose reasons behind these false accusations remain unclear to this day. Megan Chance takes these events and retells the tale through three distinct voices, bringing new light into this dark mystery.
The first voice is that of Charity Fowler. Her mother dies in childbirth the same day her long estranged sister Susannah Morrow comes to see her. At first Charity welcomes Susannah, but then the troubled girl begins to convince herself that Susannah is really an agent of the Devil, meant to open her to temptation. In truth, the path to hell more likely lies with her friends...a group of girls who cast spells in order to see their future suitor, but soon turn to daker things. Tituba, a slave from Barbados teaches, them everything she knows, and constantly tells them that her ways are not of their devil...but the girls seem to gleefully believe otherwise. In a way, it's teen rebellion gone wrong. They start with harmless, goofy, things that today's society would shrug off. Fortune telling, divining the answers to questions, while frowned upon in stricter families, are forgettable crimes. In their times, these acts have serious implications.
The second voice is that of Charity's father, Lucas. He is a very stalwart and pious man who loves his three daughters dearly, but because he does not want to spoil them or make them too weak to be worthy of God, he stays distant from them. He also loved his wife very much, which is partly why his attraction for Susannah, beautiful, and exotic, troubles him so. That, and because by law she is his sister. Any further affection between them would be a grave sin. He is a good man, strong in some ways, but like everyone else, bound too tightly by his fear of God.
Susannah, the last voice we are introduced to, shows us the flipside of the events. She ran away from home at an early age to be with the man she loved. Her clothes are beautiful, in particular a paragon red bodice that will end up being an instrument against her. She can play music and sing like an angel, yet she is comfortable with all that is earthy. Exotic, as I said, like a brightly plumed bird, even sensual, although not strictly in the sexual sense. She dances a step or two when she does her chores, and teaches Charity's little sister songs to pass the time while embroidering and churning butter. Like the Fowlers, she did not exist, but her story resonates in the familiar names of the real life characters that live out their own story along side of them.
Charity is an extremely sensitive young girl. She used to hang around with Mary Walcott and the rest of the gang of the soon to be accusers until Mary talked her into doing something that, back then, was considered a horrible sin. Her mother, when she found out, broke the girls apart, and replaced Mary as Charity's best friend. Now, weakened by her mother's loss, she slips back into the group. Seeing from the inside how these girls peer pressure each other into committing such acts, mostly because Mary Walcott wanted the affections of Robert Proctor, is frightening. Charity, because of her past acts, thinks herself damned. Her overwrought imagination and inexpressible grief feed her visions of her mother trapped on earth, and of Susanna dancing with the devil. She and her father both suffer from the hard strictures of the Puritan times. They believe that any joy taken while on earth is provided by Satan to take them from God. It is easy for a girl who, already frightened that she's going to hell unless she really toes the line to see a woman like Susannah as evil. Even Lucas allows himself to be convinced that Susannah is a sexual snare for his soul. I, being a different kind of Christian, feel horrible for these people even as their strictness confuses me. I can not imagine why they would allow their fear of the devil to take away all the pleasure provided to them by the God they worship.
Arthur Miller's The Crucible made a huge impression on me when I read it, as many of you might have, in High School. I did not truly realize that this was the same story until I saw the name of Tituba. It was strange, seeing this story in such a different light. Megan Chance did a brilliant job in combining the religious fervor and history of the trails while creating a story that sees all perspectives, and is utterly original.
- Amazon readers rating: from 23 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Susannah Morrow at MostlyFiction.com
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Susannah Morrow (2002)
- An Inconvenient Wife (2004)
- The Spiritualist (2008)
- Prima Donna (2009)
- City of Ash (2011)
- Bone River (December 2012)
(back to top)
- Official website for Megan Chance
- National Geographic Witchcraft Hysteria
- Salem Witch Trials Document Archive
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Spiritualist
(back to top)
About the Author:
Megan Chance always wanted to be a writer, but she made a brief detour at Western Washington University, where she received a B.A. in Broadcast Communications in 1983. After several years as a television news photographer, where she found that truth really was stranger than fiction, Megan left broadcasting to write stories of her own. Megan Chance's first novel, A Candle in the Dark, won the 1994 Romance Writers of America's RITA award for Best First Book and received a Member's Golden Choice nomination and a "RomanticTimes" Reviewer's Choice award. Since then, she has continued to receive awards and acclaim.
Ever since she was a young girl, she's had a penchant for historical novels, thus it was natural that she would eventually turn to writing historical fiction, especially since she enjoys immersing herself into the research - "the more arcane, the better."
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Megan moved to Washington State as a girl. She currently lives near Seattle with her husband, a criminal defense lawyer and writer, and her young daughters.