March 21, 2011
Snakes, by Patricia Damery (Farming Soul, 2010) is a beautifully written novel about a woman coming to terms with family continuity as small farms are packed up and sold off at auctions to those who will never know who once lived there and made of them enduring homes.
Angela leaves the Midwestern farm her family has worked for generations because the roads and fields and traditions are, in spite of their deep values, confining to her coming-of-a-age soul. She attends college in California, receives a degree in biology, becomes a teacher, marries, and has a family. When teaching proves to be an unsatisfactory career, she focuses on her new and all-consuming avocation of weaving.
Snakes is a poetic meditation about the intertwined cycles of life and farming. It is also an evolving letter of love from Angela to her recently deceased father about life as it was, mundane and unexpected daily events, and, of course, the snakes. Snakes and the cycles of life are constant images throughout the book; snakes in the corn crib, snakes in the garden, snakes in the kitchen. We fear snakes, yet we also see them as protectors of the land and as symbols of the natural stages of everlasting life.
For Angela to come to terms with herself and the disintegration of families and farms, she must come to terms with snakes. Her weavings become her medium and her message, the storyboard of her life as it was and as it is, all the memories, dreams and reflections of a nurturing mother claiming her authentic role within the natural order of children and husbands, kitchens and bedrooms, warm tidal pools and freshly ploughed fields, and gardens where snakes live amongst the flowers.
Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey,” a hero’s journey novel.