Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Heretic's Daughter (copy)

Not only do I travel to Salem, Massachusetts, but back in time to the year of our Lord, 1690, in this week’s book The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent.

The story opens with this foretelling paragraph:

“In 1630 Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony took a small group of men and women from the old England to the new. These Puritans, so they were named, would make a place in the colonies by surviving war, plague, and the work of the Devil in a small village called Salem. One woman and her family would stand against religious tyranny, suffering imprisonment, torture, and death. Her outraged and defiant words were recorded by Cotton Mather, who called her, The Queen of Hell. Her name was Martha Carrier.”
Kent is a direct descendant of Martha Carrier on her mother’s side. She grew up hearing the stories passed from generation to generation and includes most in this slow-paced historical fiction. The Carriers were known to feed their cow pumpkins to make golden milk, and the children made bows and arrows shooting them above each other’s heads ala William Tell.

When I say slow-paced, I do not mean in the negative sense. She sets the stage for the atrocities by framing meanness and petty jealousies within the Carrier family and their surrounding neighbors. Rumors and innuendoes fill the first half of the book then the story rolls faster as accusations begin the ultimate downhill spiral.

It was said John Carrier brought plague to his chosen settlement, Billerica. Many years prior to establishing his family, he lived with this bitterness associated with the name Carrier. Now, after learning their neighbor has died of the pox, John’s wife, Martha, packs the families’ things for her grandmother’s in Andover. It was their son, Andrew, who carried the contagion to the new community. Like father like son, they would say.

The story is narrated by nine-year-old Sarah Carrier. Looking back on the story she retells, it is in the wagon to Andover she leaves the carefree life of a toddler and becomes aware of the surrounding world. Author Kent picked one so young to explain happenings as she sees them without mucking the waters with her own theories. Through Sarah, readers are not privy to the parent’s conversations and make do with the child’s point of view. Sarah soon turns 10 and has a keen eye for the wicked.