The Crucible then read Salem Falls

This is a weird crossover one that I can’t imagine a lot of people out of high school remembering. If your school was anything like mine, though, then you had to read Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, which was mostly about the Salem witch trials and kind of about the McCarthy psuedo-witch hunt within politics. It’s an interesting play, and, at least for me, it was the first play I’d read (not seen) that wasn’t Shakespeare. I loved it a lot for that.the-crucible-nooses-hand

For the point of this comparison, you only really need to know about Abigail, the ridiculous young woman you grow to absolutely hate over the course of the play. Abigail is upset that John Proctor, the sweetest guy alive, won’t take her as his mistress and so makes up a whole host of vile rumors about everyone in town, including Proctor’s wife.

(This play is great to read in high school because the manipulation and rumor-mongering that goes on in the lives of teenagers)

Like any historical play, we all know how this is going to end. Nineteen women were burned at the stake. One man was “pressed” to death, which is exactly how it sounds and involves large rocks on the chest. Salem went down in history for having the most ridiculous trials and actually burning people to death for being witches.

Jodi Picoult’s book Salem Falls is a modern retelling of the story. I love theater with all my heart, but if I’m going to read something I want it to be a book, and if I’m reading a book about Salem I want it to be accessible. Salem Falls does all of that.

Let He Without Sin

Salem Falls was made into a TV movie in 2011
Salem Falls was made into a TV movie in 2011

Salem Falls, like most of Picoult’s books, has multiple point-of-view characters and revolves around a court case. For this book, Jack St. Bride is playing our Proctor, and Gillian Duncan is Abigail. Jack, a teacher newly released from prison after being accused of sexual advances on a student, tries to make a new life in the town of Salem Falls. (I think his first problem is trying to start over in a town named Salem) There, he runs into Gillian, who develops a thing for the strange new ex-prisoner and makes up outrageous lies that people believe. Thus our trial.

I read Salem Falls before I read The Crucible, so while reading the Miller play in class I was seeing all the similarities between the two and was impressed. It’s probably supposed to work in reverse, and if you have even the vaguest recollection of The Crucible, the parallelism will do its job and you’ll doubly enjoy the story.

But even if you never read the play, there’s a lot in the story to like. Who doesn’t like ex-cons who’ve been framed — twice? Or spoiled teenage girls who are used to getting everything and in the end get just what they deserve?

Salem Falls also features Jordan McAffe, a recurring character in Picoult books (he also appeared in The Pact and Nineteen MinutesSalem Falls takes place between the two.) McAffe is a lawyer called in to defend Jack from Gillian’s new accusations, and so becomes a pariah too. I feel like I need to tell you about him because characters that reoccur over multiple books are my favorite ever. It’s why Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is so enjoyable.

Basically f you like multiple points of view on a single incident, Salem Falls (and most Jodi Picoult books) is for you.

Cast the First Stone

There’s a malicious side to this story. Scapegoats and fires and witchcraft. I’m assuming that most readers are broad-minded

The Crucible was made into a movie with Daniel Day-Lewis in 1999
The Crucible was made into a movie with Daniel Day-Lewis in 1999

individuals (it’s like in Series of Unfortunate Event, when one character trusts another just a little bit more because he’s well-read.) I’m assuming that just because this isn’t fantasy I don’t have to put disclaimers on it. There’s witchcraft here. Don’t try to ban these books from libraries. That’s not cool.

Picoult’s books are sappy. They’re all driven by rather insane plots (school shooting and rape and suicide pacts, oh my!) but the best part is the backstory that gets woven into the character. Like Jack, our poor John Proctor, who happens to be a wiz at Jeopardy! a skill that really helped him out in prison. Or the woman who owns a diner and the story about her little girl.

If you’re someone who liked the plot of The Crucible and gobbles up interesting characters, Salem Falls is your book. If you’re someone who’s always been fascinated by the idea of a witch-hunt (literal or not) Salem Falls is for you.

As a bonus, most Jodi Picoult books are easy enough to find. Local libraries usually carry a copy or two. And it’s completely free. I never understand avid readers who don’t utilize their local libraries. There’s treasure buried in there, I guarantee it.



Pride and Prejudice then read The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy

Who doesn’t like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? A book that’s well ahead of its time, the classic published in 1813 is a fierce, funny, intelligent protagonist who spurns the thought of marriage. Though it was published nearly two centuries ago (wow) it is still at the top of many “Must Read” lists and continues to sell–to date, over 20 millions copies have been sold worldwide. In 2003, it came second in a poll by the BBC for UK’s Best-Loved Book, behind The Lord of the Rings.

Darcy and Elizabeth in the 2005 adaptation
Darcy and Elizabeth in the 2005 adaptation

What continues the interest? There have been several amazing adaptations of the novel–a 1995 4-hour BBC production starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy; a 2005 movie starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet; Bridgett Jones’s Diary, which twists the story to fit into modern-day London; and, lastly, a creative, sharp YouTube series called the Lizzie Bennet diaries, another modern retelling of the story.

But I’ll argue that it’s not the other media forms the story has adopted that has continued the interest in the story of Elizabeth and Darcy for two hundred years. After all, who doesn’t like the story of a man you thought was an old Grinch actually having a heart of gold? And who doesn’t like finding out that the girl who shook her head at the idea that love was for her actually falling for her perfect match?

The original name for Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions, an apt title for a plot that all boils down to a couple of characters jumping to conclusions, and nearly ruining the lives of a sister and best friend. Somehow, though, this turns out to be a funny, deeply moving read, and is translated perfectly Maya Slater’s 2009 novel The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy.

First Impressions

Confession time: I’ve read Pride and Prejudice cover to cover three times in my life. I’ve read Private Diary four times in the two years I’ve owned a copy. I don’t know what makes this such a compelling read — the fact that Darcy’s story hasn’t been told over and over again through the ages (see above, the very short list of adaptations) or the fact that the writing is spot-on early 19th century.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC production
Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC production

Darcy’s story is both obvious and revealing. He tells us what really happened between his sister and Mr. Whickham. He details Bingley’s  depression during the stay in London. He reveals his exasperation with Bingley’s sister Caroline and her attempts to seduce him.

If the book has a failing it is in the fact that it does not have the ironic humor of Pride and Prejudice. But since it is, as a diary, necessarily stuck in first person, it is understandable that the always aloof, somewhat standoffish Mr. Darcy does not have many quips during this very serious time in his life.

As an unexpected bonus, in Private Diary, Darcy and Bingley are old friends with Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, and visit his estate during the course of the novel. It is a fascinating character study of the manic-depressive poet, and reveals much in his short interactions with our main characters.

Prejudiced Towards Darcy

Another confession: I love Darcy. Who doesn’t? I’d want to be Elizabeth–have my favorite sister marry Bingley so I could visit his amicable house and cheer Darcy up, but I would keep Darcy for myself. And Private Diary just fuels my crush on this fictional character. Like Elizabeth in the original version, who makes judgements about Darcy based on other’s testimony, Darcy doesn’t pretend to be perfect. In fact, he often writes about how conflicted he is over his decisions. But he always tries to do the right thing for his friend and for the Bennets, and that comes across in a deeply personal voice.

private_diary_mr_d2009wThe Private Diary of Mr. Darcy is just that — a diary. Reading it gives you the same thrill you’d get from reading anyone’s personal notes. It’s like eavesdropping on gossip about your favorite literary characters — gossip you never thought you’d be privvy to, since the author who created them is long gone.

But Slater understands the original Pride and Prejudice characters, follows the time line perfectly, and fills in the gaps. After all, the main love interest of Darcy only appears a handful of times in Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the elusive Fitzwilliam, there is no better re-write available today.

(Note: there is no link to Pride and Prejudice because it is available for free on iBooks, Nook, and Kindle, as well as many places online.)