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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia
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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia [Paperback]

Dennis Covington
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews Review

Salvation on Sand Mountain is a story of snake handling and strychnine drinking, of faith healing and speaking in tongues. It is also the story of one man's search for his roots--and, in the end, of his spiritual renewal. Writer Dennis Covington came to this ecstatic form of Christianity as a reporter covering a sensational murder case; Glen Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, had been accused of attempting to kill his wife with rattlesnakes. There, in a courtroom filled with journalists and gawking spectators, Covington felt the pull of a spirituality that was to dominate his life for the next several years. Attending Summerford's church out of curiosity, he soon forged close friendships with some of the worshippers, began attending snake-handling services throughout the South, and eventually took up snakes himself.

With subject matter this lurid, Salvation on Sand Mountain could have been a Southern-fried curiosity and little more. Covington goes far deeper. Tracing the snake handlers' roots in regional history, in the deep spiritual alienation of mountain people from the secular modern world they have so recently joined, Covington is more than just sympathetic to the snake handlers; in a profound way, he considers himself one of them. His reasoning is sometimes flawed--when he attempts to find snake handlers in his own family's past, for instance, the result is belabored and unconvincing--but there's no doubt that Covington's heart is in the right place. He's also not without his own brand of sly gallows humor, as in this conversation with the elderly Gracie McAllister: "She'd swore she'd never handle rattlesnakes in July again. She'd been bit the previous two Julys. 'I decided I'd just handle fire and drink strychnine that night,' she said. Good idea, I thought. It always pays to be on the safe side."

Covington eventually breaks with the snake handlers, but comes away from the experience a changed man. "Knowing where you come from is one thing, but it's suicide to stay there," he writes. An American Book Award winner and finalist for the National Book Award, Salvation on Sand Mountain is a nuanced, compassionate portrait of an unforgettable spiritual journey. --Mary Park

From Publishers Weekly

After Covington, a writing instructor at the University of Alabama, novelist (Lizard) and freelance journalist, covered the trial of a preacher convicted of attempting to murder his wife with rattlesnakes, he was invited to attend a snake-handling service in Scottsville, Ala. He found the service exhilarating and unsettling; he felt a kinship with the people, for he was only two generations removed from the hill country of Appalachia. Of Scottish-Irish descent, the handlers are religious mystics who believe in demons, drink strychnine and drape rattlesnakes around their bodies. Covington attended other services with Brother Carl Porter; he eventually handled a huge rattlesnake, and recalls that at the time, he felt absolutely no fear. This is a captivating glimpse of an exotic religious sect.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Fascinated by the religious practice of snake handling, the author, a novelist and writing instuctor at the University of Alabama, relates his association with the Church of Jesus with Signs Following in Scottsboro, Alabama. Working for the New York Times, Covington covered the trial of the church's preacher, who was convicted of attempting to murder his wife with rattlesnakes. Upon discovering this remnant of distinctive Southern culture, the author continues his journalist's involvement with the church, which develops into a personal spiritual journey. Awed by the faith and daring of the followers, he becomes a participant in their peculiar rituals. Although the author's observations and insights are interesting, this book is only marginally informative. For a more complete study, see Thomas Burton's Serpent-Handling Believers (LJ 3/15/93).
Eloise R. Hitchcock, Tennessee Technological Univ. Lib., Cookeville
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

This fascinating work catches the essence of a place, southern Appalachia, its people, and the author's personal journey into his past. Covington is descended from the poor southern, Scotch-Irish people in this region. His ancestors came down from Stone Mountain to work the steel mills of Birmingham, Alabama. They were members of the still existent snake handlers, religious mystics who "cast out demons, drink strychnine, run blowtorches up their arms and drape themselves with rattlesnakes." Covington's journey began, more or less, when he covered the trial of Glenn Summerford, a southern preacher accused of attempting to murder his wife with rattlesnakes. In delving deeper and deeper into the pair's family and religious life, Covington became mesmerized. He attended several services at Summerford's former church--the Church of Jesus with Signs Following. "It's not true that you become used to the noise and confusion of a snake handling Holiness service. On the contrary, you become enmeshed in it. It is theater at its most intricate--improvisational, spiritual jazz." Watching his own daughter's gusto at one New Year's Eve service, the author started a genealogical search for his family's link to this evolving religion. His story is a sensitive look at the people and practices, even though he finally distances himself from their beliefs. Denise Perry Donavin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Option, 8/15/11
“Heartfelt yet sensational…Covington’s memoir is genuinely life-changing.”

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Dennis Covington is the award-winning author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Lizard and Lasso the Moon. He teaches creative writing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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