Title: Snakewoman of Little Egypt
Author: Robert Hellenga
Narrator: Coleen Marlo
Publication Year: 2010
Pages: 352 (audio length: 10 hours 14 minutes)
Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com
From the cover:
On the morning of her release from prison, Sunny, who grew up in a snakehandling church in the Little Egypt region of Southern Illinois, rents a garage apartment from Jackson. She’s been serving a five-year sentence for shooting, but not killing, her husband, the pastor of the Church of the Burning Bush with Signs Following, after he forced her at gunpoint to put her arm in a box of rattlesnakes.
Sunny and Jackson become lovers, but they’re pulled in different directions. Sunny, drawn to science and eager to put her snake handling past behind her, enrolls at the university. Jackson, however, takes a professional interest in the religious ecstasy exhibited by the snakehandlers. Push comes to shove in a novel packed with wit, substance, and emotional depth. Snakewoman of Little Egypt delivers Robert Hellenga at the top of his form.
This book had been languishing in my Audible wishlist for about a year or so before I finally bought it in preparation for my summer trip. As with a few other books I’ve read in the past few months, if I’d known that Snakewoman of Little Egypt would be so good, I wouldn’t have put it off for so long.
The story itself is strange and yet fascinating. The intricacies of the relationship between Sunny and her husband, and how it becomes entwined with Sunny’s new life with Jackson, really hold the narrative together. I tend to dislike stories where there is a love triangle, but this doesn’t really behave the same way; the “will it be Person A or Person B” scenario is never really the central question. Rather, this book is more about the ways in which the character’s pasts, presents, and futures interact with and affect each other.
Plus, there’s snake-handling. And what’s a book without snake-handling?
I’d definitely recommend you read Snakewoman of Little Egypt and, in particular, I suggest you give the audiobook a try. Coleen Marlo’s narration is fabulous and really kept me interested in the book. Not only does she read the story, but she does so with an amazingly engaging accent for Sunny, one that really brings life to the dialect that Hellenga has written for her in the book. Really, it brought the novel to life for me, and I think it will for you, too.
Definitely one of my favourite reads so far this year.