The Witches: Salem, 1692

Stacy Schiff. Little, Brown, $26 (512p) ISBN 978-0-316-20061-5

Pulitzer-winner Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life) applies her descriptive prowess and flair for the dramatic to the Salem witch trials. The book is packed with details and delivered with a punch, but it suffers from a dearth of nuance. Schiff’s passionate use of the active tense places the reader right in the midst of the action, about 15 miles north of Boston during the spring of 1692. However, this laudable effort also causes some confusion over place and time, and it’s hard to distinguish the facts from Schiff’s imaginative attempts at turning the trial reports into narrative action. There are disorienting shifts between passages in which the reader is immersed in the spooky, supposedly magical environment of Salem, and more prosaic sections describing what actually happened in the trials and town. Schiff provides background context for the events and focuses on the action, but her efforts to apply an overarching fairy tale theme miss their mark, and she avoids deep cultural, historical, and societal analyses of the trials. This retelling succeeds as a work of gripping popular nonfiction, but for those already familiar with the subject, it will serve only as light reading. [em]Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor. (Nov.) [/em]
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