I learned about Sin Eaters this week. I had never heard of them before reading A Rule of Life by Patricia Brandon. This new novel, by a South Carolina author, is captivating. The idea for the novel came from Brandon’s experiences at camp Merri-Woode in Sapphire, North Carolina. Brandon was speaking at the Hudson Library in Highlands, North Carolina recently, where I was able to hear her speak. I enjoyed learning about her experiences as a young camper and why she chose to write about Sin Eaters.
Sin Eaters are part of Appalachian and old European folklore or customs. Before modern funeral homes, families had to take care of their own deceased family members. A Sin Eater would be brought in to eat a meal off a plate that is actually set up on the dead body. Pause here and get a visual image of a dark cloaked individual, usually a poor person from the community that could use an extra free meal, sitting next to a dead body, and eating supper from a plate balanced on the potbelly of a dead person. It was believed that the Sin Eater would eat the sins of the dead person and make a way for them to get to heaven. Just the thought of that, and the fact that it was once part of dying in these parts, is intriguing.
Patricia Brandon has done what many authors do. She has written her experiences into a novel using a topic that is mysterious and unknown to many. Brandon often camped at Merri-Wood in her younger life and draws on her experience when she wrote the fiction story. Camp Merri-Wood is located on beautiful Lake Toxaway in the Sapphire Valley near Cashiers, North Carolina. It is easy to imagine the setting when you know the area and how remote it must have felt in the past. The book is set in 1919, just after the Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic. Life was changing quickly during this era which makes this a fast moving and compelling story.
Spending a few weeks at summer camp is every girl’s dream. Reading this story helps you connect to that experience even though you may not have ever been to a camp. The book contains mystery and can seem a little dark, but not overly so. The story is lighthearted in places, and keeps you interested because you want to see what the campers get into next.
Rule of Life has won a Readers Favorite award and The Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award for 2021. Brandon was also an American Writing Award Winner for 2022. She lives in Columbia, SC and has written two other books, including one about how she became partially paralyzed. I admire the journey she is on and look forward to future books by this author. If you would like to order the book it is on Amazon or you can check with your local bookseller.