The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown and Company, 2015; 512 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
The full impact of Stacy Schiff’s The Witches, Salem 1692 didn’t hit me until the final stretch of the author’s tireless account of the Salem Witch Trials. After the hysteria, the persecutions, and executions, a community struggles to rebuild. How do you set right so many wrongs in the wake of such public tragedy? Schiff draws the famous comparison of McCarthyism, but this intelligently written book allows the reader to remove the shackles of pre-ordained analogies and allow us to make our own interpretations for how we might read this tragedy into America’s past and present.
Schiff reminds us throughout the book that the transcripts of the Salem Witch Trials have been lost to history, their fate unknown. The people of Salem stayed mute themselves, noting that the townsfolk are unusually quiet in their diaries for that fateful year, their records gone, and the sermons missing. That the author could recreate the events so vividly is a stunning achievement on its own.
The scope could be overwhelming at times. The trials feature so many figures, most blending together without any way to discern them. A character list appears at the beginning of the book to help the reader overcome issues of clarity. This reader must admit that he used my memory of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to discern some of the key figures while trying to divorce them of that play’s creative licenses.
Despite that hurdle, The Witches, Salem 1692 offers readers a fascinating glimpse into a history in which fact has faded into the myth. I’m glad Stacy Schiff has stepped up to set the record straight.