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Serpent Box: A Novel Paperback – February 26, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In his lyrical if somewhat scattered debut, Carrella paints a vivid picture of a family struggling to survive and retain their faith in Depression-era Tennessee. Though his wife, Rebecca, is days away from giving birth, Pentecostal preacher Charles Flint feels the call of God and embarks for Slaughter Mountain, the site of a legendary Pentecostal church. Charles is gone when Rebecca, caught in the woods during a thunderstorm, gives birth to Jacob inside an ancient tree. Born deformed, Jacob is a quiet, pensive child, but as he grows up, Charles becomes convinced that Jacob is imbued with the Holy Spirit. When Jacob turns 10 and survives a bite from one of the snakes Charles uses when preaching, Charles decides to return to Slaughter Mountain, where Jacob can help spread the word. But when the Flints' faith is shaken by a tragedy, Jacob must decide how to both carry on his father's dream and protect his family. Despite an abundance of gorgeously rendered scenes, the narrative begins to lose steam midway through the book. With an atmosphere richer than its heroes, this first effort intrigues but does not wholly satisfy. (Feb.)
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In this beautifully written debut novel, Carrella sweeps readers into the vividly rendered world of a family of Pentecostal preachers. Set in Leatherwood, Tennessee, during the Depression, the novel centers on young Jacob, believed to be an unusually gifted prophet possessed by the Holy Ghost. Born inside an enormous oak tree during a lightning storm, he is physically deformed and is harassed by the neighborhood children until he turns 10, when his father, a preacher of deep faith, recognizes his son’s gifts. He trains Jacob in handling snakes and drinking lye and believes they are meant to found a church. But when their inaugural ceremony takes a tragic turn, Jacob learns he is meant to follow a different path. At the center of the novel is a stunning series of set pieces that depicts, among other things, the hunting of a behemoth snake and the worshippers’ mystical communion with the natural world. Although the many twists and turns of his plot sometimes overshadow his charismatic characters, Carrella is a writer of great power who expresses his original vision with remarkable assurance. --Joanne Wilkinson
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Top customer reviews
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The novel takes place in the backcountry of Appalachia, in hidden pockets, during a time in the last century when the Ku Klux Klan held no fear for what they did. There’s a Tree of Life and Death, entrance to the Underworld, signs, visions, spirits and The Holy Ghost. There are plenty of Heroes, female and male. The central one being a Holiness Child following his daddy’s footsteps, a traveling preacher of a charismatic fundamentalist sect whose practices involve handling deadly snakes and drinking poison in praise of Jesus.
Serpent Box reads like a mythological story. It speaks of those things people carry deeply and hold true - no matter what - and a darker nature of humanity. It’s a Hero’s Journey of a different sort. And all the archetypal characters, forces and phases of the journey are present. Carrella uses words and visual imagery hypnotically. He leads the reader in…bit by bit…until suddenly you may find yourself entranced - as I was - equally as mesmerized by the content of the novel as were the characters caught up in the path they were drawn to follow.
I didn’t fully realize the book’s subject matter before being pulled from page to page. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered hearing of Pentecostal sects who handle snakes regularly in their worship. Although, the drinking of lye and strychnine was new to me. But I knew little. I would urge you not to do research prior to reading Serpent Box. Save that for later so it doesn’t get in the way of the story or some insight into the culture and its beliefs.Serpent Box: A Novel
The story and the writing are filled with grace, power, and beauty.
The writing here is beautiful, but the author chooses to cash in his chips every chapter in order to flash back and forth between the past experiences of the man and the woman. It kind of kills the suspension of disbelief, at least for me.
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