Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Snakewoman of Little Egypt

By: Robert Hellenga
Bloomsbury 346 pgs
Submitted by Bloomsbury
Rating: 4

This book makes me want to go back to school.

Jackson Carter is an anthropology professor at Thomas Ford University in Illinois. He has returned from Africa and written a book about his experiences with the Mbuti. Jackson has drawn the disapproval of the anthropological community by "going native," most spectacularly by taking a girlfriend and fathering a daughter.

Sunny (fka Willa Fern Cochrane) has just emerged from a six-year stint in prison for shooting her husband, Earl, the preacher of the Church of the Burning Bush With Signs Following (henceforth known as CBBWSF), a bunch of Pentecostal snake-handling, strychnine-drinking lunatics who are busily excommunicating themselves from the world. Earl had forced Sunny to put her arm in a box of rattlesnakes at gunpoint, and she was bitten. So she shot Earl with his gun, and I say, good for her. Sunny is determined to change her life and does a 180 when she leaves prison and enrolls at Thomas Ford University, where she meets Jackson Carter.

They soon embark on a relationship that is transformative for all involved, including friends, other professors, and dead uncles. Earl meets Jackson when he shows up to take Sunny "home." Jackson's anthropologi-ness (which can also kill cats) gets the better of him, and he decides to make the followers of the CBBWSF his next research subject. We already know Jackson's propensity for going native so guess what happens next.

Snakewoman is a good book. Mr. Hellenga has done about three tons of research, and it's a good thing. We learn a great deal about groundhog hunting, timpani drums, catching snakes, recipes, pygmies, and France, just to scratch the surface. However, I confess that by page 346 I wearied of the instruction manuals. Such exotic material is deftly handled by Mr. Hellenga, never falling into stereotype, which would have been easy to do. I enjoyed this book very much and confidently recommend it to you.

If you enjoy Snakewoman you may want to take a look at Mr. Hellenga's other works: http://www.roberthellenga.com/

Snakewoman is published by Bloomsbury USA: http://www.bloomsburyusa.com/

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