Praised for its mesmerizing intensity and taut, quick-witted prose, SNAKE tells the mesmerizing story of a mismatched couple -- Irene, ambitious and man-crazy, and her quiet, adoring, responsible husband, Rex -- who tumble into marriage and settle as newlyweds on a remote Australian farm. It is amid this unforgiving landscape that Irene and Rex raise their two children. It is here that, as Rex bears silent witness, Irene tends her garden and wrestles with what seems to be her fate. And it is here that their marriage unravels -- inexorably, bitterly, spectacularly.
*POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novella incorporates themes of abortion and suicide.
Australian housewife Irene has for some time grown to feel that she's become uncomfortably locked into a seriously stifled domestic existence. Though she can't deny her husband has proven to be a good and faithful man, she misses the more wild, carefree side of her spirit that got consumed somewhere along the path of marriage and motherhood.
Irene makes it clear she likes her son but seems to be easily annoyed by her daughter. "Boy" is often light-hearted about life, enamored with American country music, while "Girlie" has a very serious nature, a writer spirit who tends to interpret things in their most literal sense. She's not much appreciated by either adults or fellow children.
Irene and Rex have a pretty good bond in the early years, but begin to show signs of slowly drifting apart over time as the children grow up. Along with decreased affections, tensions steadily rise between them. Whispers of infidelity begin to surface. Irene's coldness towards her daughter also increases while parent-child boundaries between her and her son become uncomfortably blurred. (WHY are they having tub time together in his teenage years?!!)
"Like many women of her class, Irene's mother maintained a separate bedroom from her husband; he could make his own arrangements. On the rare occassions she thought about sex, it was to envisage the gully at the bottom of the hill near her house --- gloomy, vine-tangled, rank with the smell of still water and furtive animals."
Well, if that's the example Irene had to grow up with....
Finally hitting her limit with everything one day, Irene rather heartlessly decides to leave a letter confessional addressed to husband Rex out in the open --- where anyone might stumble upon it --- in which she admits that the son he helped raise all these years was actually fathered by her ex! The unraveling of the relationship from that point of confession continues to drive the narrative to its headshaker of an ending.
Snake is a quick novella read with alternating POVS: Part 1 is presented in second person voice, observing Rex; Parts 2 & 3 are in third person observing both Irene and Rex as a couple, while also offering perspective from Billie, an Army friend of Irene's who also served as one of her bridesmaids. Billie gives the reader details on Irene's pre-Rex promiscuous years, history that might play into why she was the way she was with Rex years later; Part 4 goes back to second person voice, but with the voice now focusing on Irene.
I won't lie, this one was a weird little read. It's gritty and stark, the descriptions of bleak Australian landscape often serving as an extra character to enhance the dark mood between our human players. The plot is grim but the writing itself is fascinating, bringing the reader into full-on rubbernecker mode til the very end. I didn't always entirely understand how some scenes connected to the plot as a whole and in the later bits of the story there seemed to be a strange fixation on bugs and mice that also left me scratching my head a bit.
In some ways, Snake reminds me of my reading of Nabokov's Lolita. Maybe not a story you'd return to often because it's so cozy and good... both books will undoubtedly induce a good skin crawl or two .... but you stay with the pages because THAT WRITING THO. Though an author might lead you down some dark, sketchy paths, a reader can't but be taken with a finely woven sentence (or hundreds of pages of them!). This is one such book. Take it for a spin at least once just for the sheer experience of quality "less is more" writing craft.