Friday, February 4, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart is exquisite. The details of daily life for these Depression Era, hard-working, down-on-their-luck Southerners makes this novel come alive. It isn’t necessarily a life I wanted to immerse myself in. The cruelty, racism, and sexual exploitation that these itinerant farm workers and turpentine extractors had to endure made for unpleasant reading to say the least. But the writing was beautiful. The descriptions were so realistic I thought the author must have experienced some of the work, not only researched it.

Delwood Reese is a good-looking young man who was raised farming and working trees for turpentine. Now he’s on his own, getting work where he can. But he has the bad habit of sleeping with other men’s wives. When his boss catches him at it, he puts him into the grain bin to “walk down the corn” – pretty much an execution – that almost succeeds. Del takes off and ends up at the Swallow Hill Turpentine camp.

Rae Lynn Cobb is a beautiful young woman, raised in an orphanage, who married an older man with a small-scale turpentine operation. They love each other in a way, but he’s stubborn about things, tight with money, and clumsy/accident prone. That last flaw causes Rae Lynn a few injuries as well. Tragedy strikes when a poor decision leads to his drawn-out, painful death. Rae Lynn gets chased off the place by a predatory male. And she ends up at Swallow Hill too.

Things go from bleak to bleaker. The work is back-breaking. Workers are paid in worthless scrip and have to buy necessities at the company store, so the longer they work, the more in debt they are. The men in the largely Black workforce are treated worse than animals. The boss is a homicidal sadist.

Thankfully, there are little bits of sunshine. Del’s near-death experience has changed him. He’s a better man and he looks out for others. Including Rae Lynn.

Ultimately, this is a hopeful book. A great read for when you’re looking for some hopefulness.

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