Snakewoman of Little Egypt
By Robert Hellenga
(Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, 9781608192625, 352pp.)
Publication Date: September 14, 2010
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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.
Robert Hellenga was educated at the University of Michigan and Princeton University. He is a professor at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and the author of the novels The Sixteen Pleasures, The Fall of a Sparrow, Blues Lessons, Philosophy Made Simple, and The Italian Lover.
- Snakewoman of Little Egypt takes place in 1999 and 2000, a recent past that readers should remember well. What period details from the turn of the millennium come to life in the novel? Why do you think Robert Hellenga set his novel at this time instead of the present day?
“Dead solid perfect. The truest and most moving portrait of the romance of research and the lyricism of learning that you will ever find. Plus: a good solid story, right down the center. I loved this book.”—Mary Doria Russell“Hellenga is fearlessly inventive. Could anybody else combine snake handling, the Ituri pygmies of the Congo, life in a women’s prison, learning to play timpani, a murder trial, and a poignant love affair in three-hundred-odd fast-paced, highly readable pages?”—Maxine Kumin
“Three reasons to love Hellenga: He’s a fine storyteller; he gives us new eyes; he restores our sense of wonder. Attention must be paid.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Yes, it is a melancholy story, but it is also immensely satisfying and even uplifting in that unique way that only deeply felt life can provide.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Though slow to start, the serpentine story solidifies into a captivating and original take on the strange ways of redemption.”—Publishers Weekly