In this latest novel by the author of Atmospheric Disturbances, Katharina Kepler stands accused of using witchcraft to sicken a member of her community in plague-addled 17th century Germany. Katharina tells her side of the story to friend and next-door neighbor Simon, a reclusive widower imperiled by his own secrets, in a tale loosely based on the witch trial of Johannes Kepler’s mother.
The comedy that runs through Everyone Knows is a magical brew of absurdity and brutality. Galchen has a Kafkaesque sense of the way the exercise of authority inflates egos and twists logic ... There’s real sorcery here, but it arises only from the way Galchen fuses ancient and modern consciousness ... testimonies present a jaw-dropping catalogue of anxieties, irritations and non sequiturs—all the various ways human beings can make themselves believe whatever they must to avoid acknowledging that they’re afraid, that they’re jealous, that they can’t control their lives. Late in the novel, all the most bizarre accusations are enumerated in a list that could pass for Renaissance Twitter ... The fate of Kepler’s mother is a matter of historical record, but Galchen arrives at something the facts can’t catch: The exhaustion, the bone-weariness of fighting such misogyny year after year. It’s enough to break a weaker person.
Katharina’s sections tell a very funny and witty account of a society coming undone because of moral panic .... Galchen expertly weaves together a story told from multiple perspectives, showing how easy it is for a mob mentality to take hold in a climate of fear and ignorance when a woman simply exists outside of the norm. But within the novel’s sharpest and most humorous moments, there’s a deep underlying sadness for an elderly woman reckoning with the loss in her life. Katharina’s fictional story reminds us of the thousands of real lives of men, women and children that have been lost to absurd cultural anxiety.
...delightfully funny ... With descriptions like this, Galchen efficiently drops us into 17th century Germany without elaborate scene-setting. Her acknowledgements show stacks of books she read for research, but that knowledge has been absorbed and digested. She doesn’t explain; she reveals. It’s harder than it looks ... The situation may be dire, but the novel is gosh-darn funny. Katharina is sharp and bright, and her narration sings ... Galchen has written another smart book that investigates the power of narrative, both good and bad, foregrounding a woman who’d only been a footnote to a famous man’s story, all while being funny and deceptively easy to read. It’s quite a magic trick.