The Saints of Swallow Hill

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I won this book from a GoodReads Giveaway. It sounded like a cross between The Four Winds and Where the Crawdads Sing, so I thought it would make a good pick for book club.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 3

Religion: 3

Gruesome: 3

Suspense: 3

Morality: 3

Traditional: 2

Sex - not even two full pages into the story, on the bottom of page 4, Del admits to having messed around with wives of two coworkers and coveting a third, "He'd always wondered how it might be with a colored woman." The first few pages have several references. Failed attempt and rumination. (Pgs. 33-34) A man gropes a woman's crotch without invitation. (Pg. 251)

Religion - Ch. 3 Pg 27 has an out of body experience. "God done laid his very hand on him," in response to a miraculous survival. (Pg. 29) Bible is quoted as justification for abusing wife. (Ch. 11)

Gruesome - loss of a fingertip (Pg. 21) Sweatbox. (Pg. 57) A man gets whipped. (Pg. 61) The gruesomeness gets worse on Pg. 76. Hot tar covers someone's face. (Ch. 26)

Suspense - end Ch. 1 when Del is in the corn silo. The author alternates between two main characters so it allows for a bit of suspense while we wait for that side of the story to resume.

Morality - Ch. 6 deals with the idea of assisted suicide. Varied ideas of what is a just punishment.

Traditional - Approximately 70 years after emancipation, some characters still talk of whites being superior. (Pg. 78) A character suspects a mother of having sex with her adult son. (end Ch. 17) A kiss between two people of the same gender. (Pg. 258) A woman feels uncomfortable with the way another woman strokes her hand. (Pg. 346) A woman confesses her lesbian tendencies. (Pg. 347)

Before the book begins, on page ix, there is a poem which I found quite annoying. I mean, as poems go it had a really clear AABB rhyme scheme until the last of four stanzas when instead of rhyming fair/rare they wrote fair/rarest. There is probably some exception, such as an eye rhyme or something, but it could have so easily been traditional. So, I started the book off on a grumpy note but was soon captivated by the characters.

There are a few chapters tacked on to the end. Chapter 35 is subtitled 1940. This made me wonder when the others were. I flipped back to the first chapter and a few other early chapters but none of them had subtitles for the year. Perhaps it was written into the text, but I just wanted a quick reference to understand how much time had passed if we were suddenly in 1940. Reading the chapter gave me the general idea of how much time had passed, but initially the minor change in form was annoying.

Discussion Questions

Why did Warren never change his methods - despite all the injuries?

Can you imagine cutting 167 trees/hour, which is about 3 each minute? (end Ch. 5)
If you were the tally keeper, could you keep up with all the call outs?

What would your woods name be? Del Reese went by Butler because "It was painted on the outside of a grain bin [he] worked in once." (Pg. 73) It was the bin he almost died in. (Pg. 12)
Did Del choose the name as a sign of triumph or a reminder of something?

Cornelia said women "always do what we have to do, what's necessary". The narrator expands, "They were most often the ones to bend, sometimes until they broke. Or got broken." (Pg. 214) Do you agree?

Cornelia's mom said, "one of the best ways to a man's heart is good cooking." (Pg. 217)
Have you ever tried this approach? Did it work?

What does the title mean to you, in relation to the book?

The Author's Note explains the origin of "tar heel". (Pg. 367) Were you aware of the origin?

The questions above originated from my own natural curiosity that occurred while I was reading the novel. After I finished the story, I read the questions written for the book discussion group. A couple are similar to mine. This is probably the first book in which I have EVER like ALL of the questions written for discussion. I encourage you to utilize the questions from Pgs. 371 & 372.

Theme Ideas

Decorate with a mug of wildflowers in the center of the table like Rey had in his shack. (end Ch. 12)

Give your guests jars of stewed okra like RaeLynn and Cornelia took to Del. (Pg. 227)