BookBrowse Reviews Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Snakewoman of Little Egypt

A Novel

by Robert Hellenga

Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2010, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Packed with wit, substance, and emotional depth, Robert Hellenga is at the top of his form

I had not previously read a book by Robert Hellenga, although he has already published five novels, but I was intrigued by the title of his latest. After all, women's mythical history with snakes stretches back to Genesis and beyond, and I remember reading with great pleasure Marion Zimmer Bradley's Firebrand, in which a snakewoman plays a key role during the Trojan War. But who knew that right now in America we still have fundamentalist Christian sects handling snakes as a means of avoiding hell and reaching heaven? Sunny, formerly known as Willa Fern Cochrane, was born and raised in the Church of the Burning Bush with Signs Following in southeastern Illinois and married to its most powerful preacher until she got "backed up on God" and took justice into her own hands. As I read, I found myself wondering whether Hellenga named Sunny's ex-husband Earl after the infamous Dixie Chicks song "Goodbye Earl."

Jackson Carter Jones, a forty-year-old associate professor of anthropology, is another fatalistic character. He is just recovering from a severe case of Lyme disease when Sunny enters his life, but his true personal crisis stems from years of fieldwork in the Huri Forest of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where he fathered a daughter with an Mbuti pygmy. There he had experienced "ecstasy, or joy, or maybe simply a settled conviction of well-being, of being at home in the universe, of being where he belonged… punctuated by periods of incandescent… oceanic feeling." Nothing in his safe, predictable Illinois college town can measure up to that.

The love affair between Sunny and Jackson is told with wonderful compassion and plenty of well-written sex scenes. I was charmed by Sunny's toughness and Jackson's vulnerability. I learned about the rituals and beliefs of some Pentecostal churches (the snake handling scenes are thrilling and creepy), the methods of rattlesnake research in a modern biology department, French cooking on par with Julia Child, and the legal questions concerning the defensible use of force. Hellenga packs enormous content into a story that nevertheless offers effortless reading.

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

This review was originally published in November 2010, and has been updated for the September 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Religious Snake Handling

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Midwinter Break
    Midwinter Break
    by Bernard MacLaverty
    Northern Ireland's Bernard MacLaverty is the author of five novels and multiple short story ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ninth Hour
    The Ninth Hour
    by Alice McDermott
    In a pivotal scene in The Ninth Hour, young Sally encounters an increasingly loathsome series of ...
  • Book Jacket: Rebellion
    Rebellion
    by Molly Patterson
    Rebellion overlays the stories of four women, spanning a century and the globe in their wide ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford

    Inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle's epic 1909 World's Fair.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Twelve-Mile Straight
    by Eleanor Henderson

    An audacious epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don't Rise

A debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y Can't M A S P O O A S E

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.