My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Eddie, a young, pretty single mom, is trying to do the right thing by her three-year-old daughter. She really is. With no education, no job, and a string of loser boyfriends behind her, she faces hard decisions every day. Gas for the car, or food for Joy? She’s already been forced to move back into her mother’s decrepit old trailer in Shady Acres Trailer Court in rural Arkansas. Should she get a normal job working long hours for minimum wage, or should she put on her stiletto heels, bikini bra and micro-skirt and go back to exotic dancing so she can bring home fistfuls of cash for a few hours’ work? When she catches her daughter playing with handfuls of baby copperhead snakes behind the trailer, the choice gets a lot easier: get out of there by the quickest means possible. But at what cost? And is that strange man the devil or her knight in shining armor?
I’ve been meaning to write this post since a week after I finished Snakes. I have in fact written several fantastic versions of this post in my head whilst driving; unfortunately you won’t be reading any of them! It has taken me another fortnight from writing this post by hand (I’m like that) to getting round to typing it up.
In my original review of Snakes, I said that I was unsatisfied with the ending. On further reflection, I realised that what I felt about the ending was far more complicated.
PLOT SPOILER ALERT
I WILL BE DISCUSSING WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE STORY SO STOP NOW IF YOU WANT IT TO REMAIN A SURPRISE
xxxx WARNING ENDS xxxx
I realised that what disturbed and in some ways disappointed me about the end of the story was that there was no chance for repentance and redemption. Eddie wasn’t a particularly bad person and she was doing all she could to shield her daughter, Joy, from the ‘bad’ side of life. Eddie made some bad choices and gave into some temptations, but she was aiming to get away from the seedy aspects of her life. For this reason, I still feel that her punishment came out of an entrapment and without a chance to appeal.
The way the book ends, you don’t know if Eddie lives or dies. Earlier in the book we are told that copperhead bites are rarely fatal, but Eddie suffers a bite in a very unusual place. I’m not sure which would be worse for her: to have her life ebb away knowing her daughter has been taken, or to recover and, I expect, to spend the rest of her life trying, and most likely failing, to find her daughter.
I wanted to know more about the stranger and his plans for Joy. I couldn’t decide if he really aimed to let Joy shine in the world as she was supposed to (and who was he to say that illuminating and inspiring her mother’s life wasn’t sufficient?) or whether he wanted to prevent her doing so, despite what he appeared to be saying. Was he Good or Evil, Angel or Devil? Am I reading into his looks the effects of thousands of years of accumulated symbolism?
I think that this story hit home because we all make bad choices and compromises in our lives; few of us are all we can be. Sometimes, the only motivation for going on is the hope that we will make better choices and be able to avoid those soul-sucking compromises. Snakes gave me a glimpse into a world where that hope does not exist – and I don’t like what I saw. I don’t want to live in that Hope-less world. As the tale of Pandora explains, when all the demons of pestilence are released, the tiny, fragile Hope that struggles out of the box after the demons escape is all that keeps mankind going.
Snakes challenged me to take stock of my life, and provoked me into being more honest with myself than perhaps I had been before. I didn’t like some of what I saw there either! The removal, in the story, of Hope shocked me profoundly, which is why I didn’t – and still don’t – “like” the story. In my opinion, it is not a story to like, it is one to experience.
I can not find a suitable adjective to describe this story: thought-provoking is too anodyne and rather overused. Snakes provokes a gut-wrenching emotional response, perhaps because by using snakes as a motif, it speaks to one of our most primitive fears.
I said this in my first review, and it still holds true a month later: For a 30 page story to have such a deep, powerful and abiding effect shows that Travis Heermann is a master, ranking up there with Aesop and the Greek myth writers.