Worming of America: Or An Answer to the Arraignment of Women is a truly unique book. Blending historical fiction, religious treatise, and memoir, it defies traditional genre.
The book follows the story of Susan Hutchinson, or Autumn Leaf, a woman who has spent four years of her life in the company of a local, Indigenous tribe. Bostonian Puritans banished Autumn’s mother, a religious reformer, from their community as punishment for her heretical beliefs. As the family traveled south towards the Dutch colony now known as New York, they were killed by Native Americans. Autumn was the sole survivor.
As a captive of the Lenape people, Autumn learns a new way of life. The tribe is led and governed by women. And so when she returns to the Pilgrims, their way of life comes as a shock.
Worming of America raises important questions about how civilization is defined, who belongs in society, and the role of faith in a community. It is a book about the cost of fitting in, and the dangers of standing out.
The book makes use of a novel conceit. Our first narrator is an amateur historian who came across Autumn’s diaries in 1987. The second is an academic who agrees to review the manuscript to please his lover. In this way, Worming of America blurs the lines between fact and fiction to create an alternative history – one in which women’s voices are heard.
Woven through Autumn’s story is the lore of free grace – the theory of religion embraced by her mother, Anne Hutchinson. Free grace theology is the idea that everybody is granted eternal life the moment they accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. This belief is at loggerheads with the restrictions imposed by Puritan doctrine. If salvation is dependent only on faith in Jesus Christ, the Christian church’s strict moral codes are unnecessary.
A hardback of 318 pages, this is a long read. Yet – although Worming of America is set in Boston during 1650 – the language is modern and engaging. Worming of America is never more beautiful than when Autumn speaks of the world around her. Rich descriptions of woodland creatures and landscapes bring Autumn’s world to life. And the text is punctuated with line and charcoal drawings of various characters.
Worming of America is an innovative book. Within Autumn’s story is a reimagined history and intriguing theological tract. Though the real-life Susanna Hutchinson died over 500 years ago, this exploration of faith and belonging will resonate with many a modern-day reader.