Snake in the Grass by Ron Leming

Snake in the Grass by Ron LemingI have reviewed some odd books over the years, but never one that literally belongs in the pages of the Weekly World News. However, that’s exactly where Snake in the Grass finds its inspiration and environment. Imagine, if you will, that the Weekly World News was reporting on the world as it really is if only people would open their eyes and see. You’ll find aliens, conspiracies, faerie folk, and more within these pages, all narrated from the not quite objective viewpoint of Snake, a WWN reporter.

Snake has a strong voice and a descriptive style that brings out the small details of both appearance and body language in a way I appreciate while making the different places she visits, with her best friend and photographer Batty, come to life. Her narrative style tweaked something in my memory that I didn’t figure out until the appearance of Spider Robson, owner and bartender of The Dancing Cat, a clear homage to Spider Robinson and the Callahan’s series (though he doesn’t get a mention in the afterword). This book has a similar feel to Callahan’s without the frequent puns. Part of that feel is the overt storytelling in a stream-of-consciousness, memoir style. The narrative meanders a bit and offers up details that aren’t critical to what’s going on, but those apparently random mentions help flesh out the characters and the larger situation.

This is not an action story, despite some faster-paced crises they encounter, nor is Snake a traditional protagonist. She’s assigned stories that put her in the middle of circumstances out of her control. They’re often beyond her comprehension, even, without the use of interpreters who are sometimes “local” guides and at other times her boyfriend, Dakota, or rather the partner in a newly developing relationship. Even Snake is aware of how she’s being manipulated at times.

One tip for those of you who don’t like spoilers: Don’t read the full foreword by Piers Anthony until you’ve read the book. It gives away too much of the twists for my comfort.

As to the novel, I enjoyed the read with only one major, and one minor but related, quibble.

Snake is a complex, well-developed person who styles herself as an outlier to both the female kind and general humanity with pretty good grounding for that sense. It made the times when she steps out of herself to announce something as “any woman alive” jarring. She proclaims herself the arbitrator of what all women feel or are, often in conflict with this particular woman, which says a lot for the overall voice as it kept me reading despite the number of times this happens.

The second quibble is the romance between Snake and Dakota. It often didn’t work for me just because it was oddly distancing, though at other times I enjoyed their interplay. The constant mentions of Snake’s “jiggly bits,” an anatomically odd term for her genitals (having excluded breasts through constant mentions of her small size–no jiggling there) is off-putting while the romance “climaxes” in an awkwardly explicit sex scene that could easily have been behind closed doors without losing anything. I do find Snake’s global condemnation of romance novels at this point both sanctimonious and ironic considering my problems with the scene. She then tops it off with more “all women think/feel” statements to make sure I’d have to mention this problem to give the story an honest review.

Ignoring those two issues (which may or may not bug you), Snake is an interesting, active character, despite her actions rarely serving to drive the story until the end. She has a dynamic narrative voice that carries the whole book and glosses over almost all the rough spots with ease. Batty is sweet; there are not one, but two cat characters; and the story is populated with enough oddball, fun personalities to delight me, which isn’t even mentioning the cars: a good mix of Batty’s rebuilt specialty rides and “secret agent” cars disguised as piles of junk.

Snake in the Grass is a fun, ridiculous, and over-the-top messiah story that makes you feel like you’re there with Snake and Batty as they explore weird tales found in out-of-the-way places in Mexico, Romania, and Nebraska, to name a few.

P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.

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