Book Review: Snakes

This is a beautiful book. I’m having a hard time saying anything else about it.  Beautiful is enough.  It is the only adequate word. I promised it to a friend, told her she should pass it on when she is done reading it.  But I do not want to part with it. I want to read it again.  Now.

The story takes place over a period of a few months as Angela is in her thirties or forties.  She has three children, two older boys and an infant daughter. Her sons, Trent and Wheat are willful, smart boys, older elementary and middle school aged.  Kristen, her new daughter, is nursing, wears diapers, naps.

Like the weavings Angela makes throughout the book, she intersperses the narrative with reminiscences about her youth on a farm in Illinois, about her ill-fated trip to California to go to college, about falling in love, about the snakes she fears and loathes that pervade her life at pivotal moments.  She tells ancient folk stories, and she talks to her recently passed father.

Despite the somewhat obvious symbolism of the snakes, despite the gently foreshadowed infidelity that serves as the story’s climax (and anti-climax), the work is never heavy-handed.  It is gentle and comforting like sun that warms after a swim.  It is earnest.

Patricia Damery gives us these stories in a voice that is earthy and haunting, that lulls and engages.  Her renderings of being the mother to an infant are particularly elegant–not romantic, but not whiny.  She lets us enter Angela’s perspective by taking us through these stories of a life in Angela’s body, but Angela does not editorialize.  Angela does not boss us around.  She leads us gently, awakens our empathy, and shows us truth and sadness and lust and betrayal.

Nothing is taboo in these stories, but there is not a single salacious moment.

This is a beautiful book.  You should read it.

If I must have a complaint, and I feel like I should, it’s that there are a few very strange, wonky proofreader misses.  Incorrect form of their one time, and some odd–possibly intentional, but unnecessary–tense shifting, present to past to past perfect in the space of a paragraph.

But impeccable proofreading seems to be a thing of the long past.  It is something nobody wants to pay for anymore, so small presses make do, and authors don’t have to notice.

Check out Patricia Damery here.  Buy Snakes, Farming Soul, and watch for Goatsong later this year here.  Listen to the Writers Talk Podcast with Patricia here.

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