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.
On his fortieth birthday - August 6, 1999 - Jackson Carter Jones, associate professor of anthropology at Thomas Ford
University in west central Illinois, ate a poached egg for breakfast
and then sat outside on the deck. It had rained recently - twice - and the stream, Johnson Creek, which sometimes dried up at the end of the summer, was full. When it was full, it emptied into the Lakota River, which emptied into the Mississippi. He was trying to decide his own fate, take it into his own hands. He took a coin out of his pocket. A quarter. One of the new ones, Pennsylvania, the American eagle replaced by an allegorical female figure. He flipped it. It landed on the glass table top, bounced off onto the plank floor. The dog, a black lab with a little bit of Rottweiler showing in her broad
chest, jumped. The coin rolled in a big circle, then a smaller circle,
and finally fell through a crack in the deck onto the sand and grit
below, where a big groundhog had made his den.
Snakewoman of Little Egypt is a classic love triangle tale. The story balances Sunny's journey from the mystic world of Pentecostal religion into the modern world of science with Jackson's quest to leave the modern world behind in order to recover his incandescent African experience. Themes - good and evil, woman and man, religion and science, truth and falsehood - abound, but they do not overwhelm a genuinely exciting story.
(Reviewed by Judy Krueger).
Full Review (962 words).
Pentecostalism is a sect of Christianity that originated in rural areas of the USA in the early 1900s. Members believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit results in a personal experience of God, but salvation requires that they practice the teachings of Jesus Christ. They take every word of the Bible as literal truth and act on those words in order to be saved and be assured of entering Heaven.
George Went Hensley began to practice snake handling while a minister of the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee (a Pentecostal church which today claims 6 million members in 150 countries). Around 1909, his church became aware of his activities and prohibited it. Eventually, sometime in the 1920s, Hensley started his own church naming it...
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