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The Witches by Stacy Schiff: Just a Buncha Assholes


In 2015, my delightful friend who was then at Little, Brown sent me their upcoming book The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. It was an excellent book to brag about having. Did I read it? Of course not. I was busy making binders for my upcoming Cahokia Mounds trip and also sitting around a lot.

But every October! I have looked over at the giant tome that is The Witches and thought 'Maybe this year?' But I have invariably become distracted and left it alone, of course losing interest in November because witches are for October. And also other times if you're interested in them/are one/like Roald Dahl books or Practical Magic. Or just really like the Monty Python take on it.




I'm about 70 pages into the 400+ page nonfiction breakdown of the 1692 events in Salem, Massachusetts, and can I say — well done. I mean, hot damn, Stacy Schiff. I'm not sure how you got over 400 pages out of something we don't really have great records of, but you also wrote a biography of Cleopatra, so this seems to tally with your preferred situation of Not a Lot of Information for the actual event, so you just research the shit out of the context.

Which is what The Witches does! It gives you a lot of context. At least as of the first 70 pages. It places you as near as it can IN Salem in 1692, and let me tell you, those people sucked.

I'm not saying we would not behave the same way. We definitely would. You're living in like a third generation family in the colonies. If you want butter on your food you have to churn it yourself. It's freezing. Wood is hard to come by, and to get it, you have to go out and chop it and carry it, and if you've never carried firewood in, there are always bugs in it. You live in Salem village, not Salem town — Salem town is fancy and has over 2000 people. Salem village has 90 families and you all hate each other AND the people in Salem town, who want you to pay for highway upkeep when it's like, hey, we separated from you because we didn't want to have to do shit for you. But also please adjudicate our very very frequent lawsuits against each other.


it feels like they were just like this all the time

Their minister sucked, because who wants to be the minister of those people? Also people keep being killed by the French and/or American Indians, because everyone was just being a dick to each other (and also the colonists kept ignoring the government and moving further west), so you're in your tiny self-built house (and how good are you at making houses?), listening to the freezing New England wind in January and hearing weirdass noises that turn out to be giant turtles mating in the forest, but how are you supposed to know that I get terrified when my girlfriend's cat walks around at night so I would have died of fear in 17th century Salem immediately. 

What I'm saying is, things were primed for everyone to be really bored, really freaked out, and really angry. So this all makes sense. Also if my neighbor had told my cows to go to the devil and then one died, I would 100% have been like SHE DID IT. Where am I getting my news of the world? The minister. What's the minister saying? That the devil kills cows. 

Nothing has changed, we all still behave like this, we just do it under different labels. And we'd still probably get freaked out about turtles mating in the woods.

Comments

  1. Hahaha this is hilarious and yes, things would have been terrible and we would have all been terrible if we were alive then. Or we would have been dead because I cannot churn butter or build houses or ANY OF THAT.

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