Although the writing may be a bit overblown at times; Kathleen Kent’s debut novel is a page turner that tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, mostly as it impacted one family – and as told as the remembrance of Sarah Carrier. Sarah is, in fact, a relative of the author.
Kent offers up just the right amount of historical detail (the inexorably developing poisonous atmosphere, the horrific prison conditions) to back-filla compelling family drama. The Carrier’s were just too independent and proud, too truly righteous (rather than apparently so for public consumption), too authentic and honorable to fit in well with their neighbors. They were doomed to be sucked into the vortex of a Puritanical ethic gone awry, almost from the beginning.
Even though I was hesitant to trod the well worn path of the Trails in Historical Novel format, I decided to give this book a read mainly because of the author’s connection – one that served her well I suspect. Here’s one of my favorite passages from early in the novel. Kent summons the image of needle and thread to recall how fragile the social fabric can be. How easily it can all unravel.
A needle is such a small, brittle thing. It is easily broken. It can hold but one fragile thread. But if the needle is sharp, it can pierce the coarsest cloth. Ply the needle in and out of a canvas and with a great length of thread one can make a sail to move a ship across the ocean. In such a way can a sharp gossipy tongue, with the thinnest thread of rumor, stitch together a story to flap in the breeze. Hoist that story upon the pillar of superstitious belief and a whole town can be pulled along with the wind of fear.
A lesson to heed. This is certainly a must-read for fans of fictional historical Americana. For others, it should be a rewarding one as well.