Snakewoman of Little Egypt was a hard read for me to get into and difficult for me to hold interest in. While Robert Hellenga is an excellent writer who is deep, lyrical and thorough, the novel was not one I could get caught up in. The whole book, I felt removed from the action and was indifferent to what was unfolding. This was disappointing to me because there was so much taking place and I kept trying to find a point that would hold my attention for the length of the story. I did enjoy that the novel was written with joint narrators and chapters that switched back and forth in point of view; this really helped to speed up the story.
Jackson Jones is a college professor and expert on the Mbuti tribe of Africa. Having traveled extensively in Africa and having lived there Jackson struggles internally with his transition back to Midwestern, American life. This period of time has clearly not been easy or clean for him, and it is evident that he is striving to find a balance in between his current life in Illinois and his past in Africa. His dreams and thoughts all seem to lead back to Africa and it seems that for much of the book that Jackson is in a haze. When Sunny, a relative of a dear friend of Jackson’s, takes up residence on his property after her release from prison, the novel takes on an entire new dimension. Sunny is dry, sharp, and doesn’t mince words. Her no nonsense attitude and quick wit make her chapters quick and poignant. Chapter by chapter, Sunny quickly becomes the star of the book and I think her character was the only one who I had consistent interest in.
The dynamics between Jackson and Sunny are truly remarkable and as the reader, I often felt like I was listening to a conversation that I wasn’t supposed to be hearing. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it seemed like Hellenga focused on emotions and situations that people don’t always like to talk about, which to me, always makes for interesting scenarios. As the novel progressed, the tone shifted and the story did move fluidly, but I don’t feel that there was enough interest in the characters or the plot for me to really dig into the story. The progression of the plot, while detailed, was a bit choppy and I found myself spending more time flipping back and forth between chapters to find my place in the story rather than following the story itself.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Walker Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.