Thursday, November 20, 2008

Salvation on Sand Mountain

Our book club decided to read Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington and discuss it in November.

This is definitely one of the oddest non-fiction books I've read this year. At times I thought I was reading a story by Flannery O'Connor, but this was real. Dennis Covington wrote of his experiences with snake-handling churches, especially the Church of Jesus with Signs Following. (Doesn't that church name sound like something straight out of a Flannery O'Connor novel or short story?) He visited churches in Alabama on Sand Mountain and others in Tennessee, Georgia, and West Virginia. His own fascination with these congregations carried the book for me, because otherwise I don't think I could have finished reading it.

While Covington investigated the churches and the people as a journalist, he allowed himself to be drawn in deeper as a believer. He actually preached and handled venomous snakes in services and brought along his wife and young daughters to participate and observe. He developed friendships with many of the people in these churches, although the relationships did not last after he finished gathering his information.

I was vaguely dissatisfied at the end of the book because I wanted to know what motivated these men and women to continue to drink strychnine and handle venomous snakes after being bitten (some of them numerous times) and after seeing close friends and family members die from poison or snake-bites. I did not see a credible answer.



Blogger Dana said...

So, when's the discussion?

Truth be known, my relatives are from Sand Mountain.... Brindle Mountain... Arab, Gunthersville - Marshall County.

While as far as I know, the current families go to regular, ole Baptist churches, I'm not aware that I'm related to any snake-handlers :)

Primitive Baptists? well, yeah :)

7:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think if your relatives were snake-handlers, they'd have been that for generations - at least, it appears to be the case in this book - and you'd know it. And these church members in GA, TN, AL, WV, KY all appear to have intermarried.

Primitive Baptists? Well, now, nothing very dangerous in a little foot-washing, right? And as far as I know, there aren't laws on the books against such a thing!

8:37 AM  
Blogger Sherry said...

Believer or pseudo-believer? I'm interested in reading this book , but if as you say, the author doesn't come to any conclusions about what makes these people tick, so to speak, I'm afraid I would find it unsatisfying, too.

9:17 AM  

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