Born in VT; married; children: one daughter. Education: Colby College, B.A.; University of Arizona-Tucson, M.F.A.
Home—Oakland, CA. Agent—Marly Rusoff & Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 524, Bronxville, NY 10708. E-mail—[email protected]
Oakland Hills, Arcadia (Charleston, SC), 2004.
The Witch's Trinity (novel), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Woman of Ill Fame (novel), Heyday Books (Berkeley, CA), 2007.
Author of blog World of Mailman.
Erika Mailman visits a dark episode from history in her novel The Witch's Trinity. The book is set in a small village in early sixteenth-century Germany, where famine has plagued the inhabitants for the second consecutive winter. Though the villagers have prayed and have also made sacrifices to their old gods, no relief from the harsh cold or from starvation arrives. Eventually, the villagers begin seeking someone to blame. The novel centers on an old woman, Güde, who lives with her son, Jost, his wife, Irmeltrud, and their young children. As food grows more and more scarce, Irmeltrud resents having to share what little they have with a woman who is too old to be of much use. It is also troubling that Güde has been having strange dreams of witches' Sabbaths. The action takes a dark and more violent turn when a friar arrives in the village with instructions to end the "devil's work begun in the hearts and souls of womenfolk."
Güde's friend Künne is accused of being a witch, and is burned to death. Suspecting that Güde may also be in league with the devil, Irmeltrud locks the old woman out of the house, forcing her to wander into the forest for shelter. Here, the confused and superstitious Güde meets a group of traditional witches, and her terror of them sparks nothing less than a full-scale mass hysteria against anyone perceived as being a witch. "One eerie aspect of the book," according to San Francisco Chronicle writer Laurel Maury, "is that it makes the reader take part in the vast fun of condemning others—even though it's the accusers we're invited to hate." Mailman's theme, Maury emphasized, is that it is the outcasts and misfits in society who are seen as dangerous—and this danger is real because, in Maury's words, "they bring out the beast in the mob."
And though the women within this mob energetically accuse each other, it is the men among them who thirst for actual blood. Güde senses as much after Künne's public burning when she observes her friend's charred and lifeless body and says only: "Since there was no woman to hate within the flames, everyone had made their way home." In addition to addressing the theme of misogyny, Mailman also explores parallels between Christian and pagan attitudes. In many ways the Christian practices seem crueler than the pagan ones. But as Maury observed, "it's not as simple as Christianity ruining a kinder, older alliance with the trees…. The most that can be said about the old pagan ways is that they seem more joyful, and their evil is self-containing."
Many reviewers found The Witch's Trinity a gripping and terrifying tale. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised its "intense atmosphere of hunger, fear and claustrophobic paranoia," while Booklist writer Margaret Flanagan admired the "searingly simple prose" with which the novel exposes the most despicable human instincts and the "dangerous frailties of the human soul." Library Journal reviewer Laurel Bliss, however, commented that the story lacks originality and that Mailman's perspective adds little to the "oft-told tale of witch burning." Maury acknowledged this point as well, but added that the book is still capable of surprising readers with "deeper undertones" that enhance its theme. "Witchery has never seemed so evil, so delicious, so unpleasantly real," commented Rick Kleffel on the Agony Web site. Mailman "takes the basic and makes it truly terrifying." Indeed, Kleffel concluded, "The Witch's Trinity may … make you suspect that we're not done with the burning yet."
Mailman's other novel, Woman of Ill Fame, is set during the California Gold Rush and follows the adventures of Nora Simms, who sails to San Francisco to make her fortune there as a prostitute. The situation becomes dangerously complicated, though, when several other "disreputable" women are found murdered.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Mailman, Erika, The Witch's Trinity, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Booklist, July 1, 2007, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Witch's Trinity, p. 33.
Library Journal, June 1, 2007, Laurel Bliss, review of The Witch's Trinity, p. 110.
Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2007, review of The Witch's Trinity, p. 29.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 28, 2008, Laurel Maury, review of The Witch's Trinity.
Agony,http://trashotron.com/agony/ (March 18, 2008), Rick Kleffel, review of The Witch's Trinity.
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (March 18, 2008), Hilary Williamson, review of The Witch's Trinity.
Erika Mailman Home Page,http://www.erikamailman.com (March 18, 2008).