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.
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, 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 Minutes. Salem 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
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.