by Claire Davis

This novel had a sinuous way about it similar to its eponymous creature. Quick to slip away from scrutiny too intense or a light too bright being cast upon it, it still made for an enjoyable read.

The prologue of this book may be its very best bit: haunting, beautiful as a reflection on the transitory miraculous nature of love. That being said, there is plenty more worth coming across in the rest of the novel.

Nancy is our main character and a biologist by training. She makes her way through the canyons pursuing snakes and cataloging their behavior: a task that would send most people screaming into the night, but perhaps unsurprisingly to anyone who has one, many times she prefers a nest of serpents to her own family.

There is a strange and ineffable dynamic between Nancy and her younger sister Meredith that develops as a thread of narrative focus. Though their interactions seem authentic and resonant, I think the story would have been better served by a deeper exploration of the sibling relationship between these sisters.

Apart from Nancy’s sister, there is also Ned, her husband. Blythe and harmless on his face, there is still something vaguely disturbing about his apparent lack of depth. When we begin riding around in Ned’s mind rather than observing him externally, stray thoughts begin to confirm something is amiss. Ned’s behavior devolves over the course of the tale and many of those niggling doubts about him we feel initially are justified.

I find it a little difficult to quantify what it is I think this novel is “about”; it seems part never-to-be-solved-mystery, part character study, part portrait of family dynamics. All of these elements appear, but none takes a dominant place as the clear theme of the tale. Despite this diffuse plot tendency, I still found the writing to be engaging and enjoyable to read.  Bonus points for vivid descriptions of Hells Canyon and environs.

St. Martin’s Press (2005), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 288 pages