Book review: The Witches: Salem, 1692

Book review: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (b.1961) Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2015 498 pages

It may be that Stacy Schiff has neglected to include some fact or sentiment about the Salem witch trials, but I can’t imagine what it might be. The Witches is an expansive compendium of the whos and whats and whys and wherefores of this compelling — yet essentially impenetrable — story about a community gone crazy.

Maybe you had to be there to understand it.

It’s too easy to suggest the McCarthy Communism hunting in 1954 as a modern analogy, but it won’t work. The whole dreadful McCarthy thing was a political football, approaching a sideshow even though it attracted the nominal attention of the nation and destroyed many lives.

The Salem witch trials (and the witch hunting that went on in neighboring towns) consumed the waking hours of all the townsfolk, who were deeply convinced that witches exist and that they were in league with satanic forces.

For my taste, Schiff tells too much of the story. I would have been content with a less detailed account. There is repetition that is dispensable.

For my taste, she struck a good balance between telling the story as it happened, and inviting the reader to suspect that the teenage girls were fooling all along, and that too many accusers had a personal reason to “get” the accused, and that too many religious and civic leaders struggled unsuccessfully with their religious faith and the opposing impulses of their arguably decent selves who quickly figured out that the witch craze was a very nasty game.

You don’t need to read the whole book to figure out that there was some very destructive bogus stuff going on in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692.

Maybe you don’t need to read the whole book to be convinced that some folks aren’t continuously motivated by a decent streak of good will and a desire to support communal well-being.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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