The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart was described as “Where the Crawdads Sing meets The Four Winds,” so I was in, but with some hesitation. Those are pretty lofty comparisons, and Crawdads is still one of the best books I’ve ever read. (I didn’t like The Four Winds and quit before I finished it, but that’s another story.)
The Saints is told (mostly) from the POVs of Rae Lynn Cobb and Del Reese, two characters who meet at a turpentine camp called Swallow Hill in Georgia in 1932. Rae Lynn presents herself to the camp boss as a man, “Ray” Cobb, because she’s running from disaster – and possibly jail – in North Carolina. She’s hoping to hide among the men who work in the camp and avoid being caught by people she’s certain are looking for her back home.
Del, an unashamed “lady’s man” (a term I hate but one used in the book), finds himself in need of a quick escape from a different work camp after being caught in a compromising position. He shows up at Swallow Hill intent on keeping his head down and doing the work.
As one might expect, Del’s and Rae Lynn’s paths cross, intersect, and come to a T. The crux of the story is whether they’ll turn the same direction at the T or go their separate ways.
I should say first that I listened to the audiobook version of this book, so my impression of it is, of course, impacted by that. I didn’t love Amy Melissa Bentley’s narration of the story and was not unhappy when I finished. Certain narrators approach the voices of characters from the South in a way that grates on me. They can sound overdone and too syrupy, as if they’re trying just a bit too hard. This one came across that way to me. I bumped the speed up to 1.25, and that helped.
I didn’t love this story, but I didn’t dislike it. I never really cared a whole lot about Rae Lynn and Del, which doesn’t help when they’re the main characters. Del annoyed me from the beginning because of his attitude toward women, and I guess I always felt at arm’s length from Rae Lynn. I think Everhart could have helped me feel closer to Rae Lynn if she had spent more time at the beginning with her and Warren and allowed me to get to know her better in that part of her life so that I could sympathize more with her later.
I think the most interesting character was Cornelia Riddle, who was relegated to the supporting cast. I won’t say much about “Nellie” here, to avoid spoilers, but I’d be curious how many other people wish we’d gotten to know her a whole lot better.
I was given an advance copy of the audiobook in return for my honest review, and I thank #NetGalley and #TantorAudio for that. Let me know what you think of #TheSaintsofSwallowHill when it’s released on January 25, 2022.