Hour of the Witch

“Hour of the Witch,” Chris Bohjalian’s well-researched and chilling new novel, takes us into a past where, just by trying to exercise her independence and desire to lead her own life, a woman could be castigated as a witch.

Bewitchingly beautiful with delft blue eyes, porcelain skin and blonde hair, Mary Deerfield has a handsome, wealthy husband, a lovely house, and bruises on her face that she tries to hide under her linen cap. Thomas, her husband, is almost twice her age and given to drunken rages, particularly as time goes on and Mary does not become pregnant.

Mary’s parents are respected and well-to-do but can’t protect their daughter. There are no organizations to help battered women, no social workers or psychologists to dispense advice, nor can Mary just leave her home, move to another city and get a job. After all, this is Boston in 1662, and women have few, if any, rights. Ironically, Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the 21st century, was back then the kind of place where they burned women as witches.

Hour of the Witch,Chris Bohjalian’s well-researched and chilling new novel, takes us into a past where, just by trying to exercise her independence and desire to lead her own life, a woman could be castigated as a witch.

“When we think of New England’s history of hanging people for witchcraft, we beeline straight to Salem in 1692,” said Bohjalian, a New York Times bestselling author of 22 books whose works have been translated into 35 languages and three times made into movies. “But in 1656, the governor of Massachusetts had his own sister-in-law hanged as a witch. And the first real witch hunt was Hartford in 1662 — three full decades before Salem. One thing many of the women executed as witches had in common was that they were smart, opinionated, and viewed as outsiders; sometimes, they saw through the patriarchal hypocrisy that marked a lot of New England Puritanism.”

Mary puts up with a lot; after all, she has little choice. But when Thomas drives a three-tined fork into her hand, she’s had it and files for divorce. Bohjalian said he was looking for a way into writing a suspense novel about the 17th century and found it when he came across the records of a woman named Nanny Naylor in the 1600s who successfully sued for divorce and won.

“I was off and running,” he said.

Bohjalian enjoyed studying Puritan theology at Amherst College, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude.

“Puritans lived with anxiety and dread — just like me,” he said. “Of course, for them, Satan was as real as your neighbor and they fretted constantly over whether they were saved or damned. My anxieties were more of the 1980s ‘Breakfast Club’ sort.

“I think ‘Hour of the Witch’ is very timely for a novel set in 1662,” he said. “And that was by design. When a magistrate on Boston’s all-male Court of Assistants calls my heroine, Mary Deerfield, ‘a nasty woman,’ I knew the reference would not be lost on my readers. Now, I never want to write polemics, but yes, there is a political undercurrent to the novel that will resonate.”

Bohjalian said it wasn’t difficult getting into the Puritan mindset.

“If you’re the sort of person who always questions your motives and has a healthy dollop of self-loathing, it’s actually rather easy,” he said.

What, of all the research he did, surprised him the most?

“The fact the Puritans didn’t use forks and drank beer like they were at fraternity parties in 1978,” said Bohjalian. “Their table manners must have been atrocious.”

This review previously ran in the Times of Northwest Indiana.

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

            “Domestic violence is not a large part of our conversation,” says Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the recently released

            “Domestic violence is not a large part of our conversation,” says Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the recently released No Visible Bruises, her exploration of this country’s domestic violence epidemic and what it means regarding other types of violence as well as what to do about it.  “I want to bring these conversations to the forefront.”

            Snyder, a journalist who won the J. Anthony Lukas Word-in-Progress Award for this project, uses the individual stories of women to show how complicated and overwhelming the subject is—and how pervasive. And while we might think of domestic violence as being an issue, if not of the past, as one more under control than when O.J. Simpson was tried for murdering his wife and women’s safety more assured by the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act. But that isn’t true.

            “Domestic homicides are rising about 25%–it used to be about three women a day three women were killed now it’s four, “says Snyder, who went to college in Naperville and lived all over Chicago including Oak Park, has traveled to more than 50 countries and lived in London for three year and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for six.  She also put herself through her first year of college by booking Dimensions, a Highland, Indiana band, for their gigs.

            “People don’t always want to read a book like this,” says Snyder. “I wanted to write a book that people couldn’t pull away from.”

            And, indeed, she did. As awful as the situations she describes—women trying to leave abusers but unable or not able to get out in time, the toll it takes on their families.  Wanting her book to read like a novel, Snyder includes true facts that would be hard to believe in a novel—one husband keeps a pet rattlesnake and drops it in the shower when his wife is in there or slips it under the covers when she’s sleeping.

            “It is an exploration of what it means to live under stress under every moment or every day,” says Snyder, an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington D.C.

            It’s also an exploration of agencies and police as they try to step in and stop the progression—sometimes with success and sometimes with heartbreak. Snyder lived all this, visiting shelters, talking to police and talking to women.

 “I think domestic terrorism is a closer reality to what is going on than domestic abuse,” she says.

            In her two decades of reporting, both in the U.S. and oversees, Snyder has seen many instances of domestic terrorism, sometimes central to her stories sometimes on the edges. When she started researching and writing No Visible Bruises, which took her nine years to finish–she even wrote her novel What We’ve Lost Is Nothing which is set in Oak Park, Illinois during the process–she never lost interest in telling the story.

            “I wanted to have the conversation about this that we have around poverty, economics, other issues and to really understand it,” she says.

            She also wanted to show how violence can lead to more violence, noting that choking a partner is a predictor of an homicide attempt amd there’s a link to mass murders as we saw in the First Baptist  Church in Sutherland Spring where Devin Patrick Kelley, a convicted domestic terrorism while serving in the Air Force killed his wife and 25 other worshippers. Domestic terrorism also is the direct cause of over 50% of women who find themselves in homeless shelters.

            Is there reason to hope? I ask her.

            She believes there is, but that it’s important to know that domestic abuse is still happening, and we need to be empathetic and that it’s good women are getting angry.

Ifyougo:

What: Rachel Snyder has two events in Chicago.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL; 773.769.9299; womenandchildrenfirst.com

When & Where: Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m. Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL; 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

, her exploration of this country’s domestic violence epidemic and what it means regarding other types of violence as well as what to do about it.  “I want to bring these conversations to the forefront.”

            Snyder, a journalist who won the J. Anthony Lukas Word-in-Progress Award for this project, uses the individual stories of women to show how complicated and overwhelming the subject is—and how pervasive. And while we might think of domestic violence as being an issue, if not of the past, as one more under control than when O.J. Simpson was tried for murdering his wife and women’s safety more assured by the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act. But that isn’t true.

            “Domestic homicides are rising about 25%–it used to be about three women a day three women were killed now it’s four, “says Snyder, who went to college in Naperville and lived all over Chicago including Oak Park, has traveled to more than 50 countries and lived in London for three year and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for six.  She also put herself through her first year of college by booking Dimensions, a Highland, Indiana band, for their gigs.

            “People don’t always want to read a book like this,” says Snyder. “I wanted to write a book that people couldn’t pull away from.”

            And, indeed, she did. As awful as the situations she describes—women trying to leave abusers but unable or not able to get out in time, the toll it takes on their families.  Wanting her book to read like a novel, Snyder includes true facts that would be hard to believe in a novel—one husband keeps a pet rattlesnake and drops it in the shower when his wife is in there or slips it under the covers when she’s sleeping.

            “It is an exploration of what it means to live under stress under every moment or every day,” says Snyder, an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington D.C.

            It’s also an exploration of agencies and police as they try to step in and stop the progression—sometimes with success and sometimes with heartbreak. Snyder lived all this, visiting shelters, talking to police and talking to women.

 “I think domestic terrorism is a closer reality to what is going on than domestic abuse,” she says.

            In her two decades of reporting, both in the U.S. and oversees, Snyder has seen many instances of domestic terrorism, sometimes central to her stories sometimes on the edges. When she started researching and writing No Visible Bruises, which took her nine years to finish–she even wrote her novel What We’ve Lost Is Nothing which is set in Oak Park, Illinois during the process–she never lost interest in telling the story.

            “I wanted to have the conversation about this that we have around poverty, economics, other issues and to really understand it,” she says.

            She also wanted to show how violence can lead to more violence, noting that choking a partner is a predictor of an homicide attempt amd there’s a link to mass murders as we saw in the First Baptist  Church in Sutherland Spring where Devin Patrick Kelley, a convicted domestic terrorism while serving in the Air Force killed his wife and 25 other worshippers. Domestic terrorism also is the direct cause of over 50% of women who find themselves in homeless shelters.

            Is there reason to hope? I ask her.

            She believes there is, but that it’s important to know that domestic abuse is still happening, and we need to be empathetic and that it’s good women are getting angry.

Ifyougo:

What: Rachel Snyder has two events in Chicago.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL; 773.769.9299; womenandchildrenfirst.com

When & Where: Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m. Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL; 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

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