Sunday, November 13, 2022

Read this book.

I used to have a book review blog called Rursday Reads. I started it because my TBR pile had gotten so big that I needed a kick in the seat to whittle it down, and a commitment to review a book a week seemed like just the thing. Once I got the TBR pile under control, though, I lost interest and shut down the blog. (Nearly six years ago? Wow, time flies.) 

Anyway, the point is that I write very few book reviews these days. But I am moved to write one about the novel I just finished today: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. 

I'm not sure I'd even call this a review. It's more of a fangrrl thing.

Kingsolver has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read The Bean Trees. (It's a wonderful tale of a young woman from Kentucky who moves to the Southwest and, along the way, is given a little Cherokee girl under mysterious circumstances. There are a couple of sequels that are just as good as the first book.)

Demon Copperhead is a lot longer than The Bean Trees -- the new book clocks in at 560 pages. It also differs in that the new book is a modern-day update to Dickens's David Copperfield.

I read David Copperfield about a million years ago, but to be honest, I don't remember much about it. So I'm not really able to tell you about the parallels between the stories. (In its review, The Guardian does what I can't.) I can tell you, though, that it's not necessary to have ever read any Dickens to enjoy this book.

Demon, whose real name is Damon Fields, narrates his own story with a voice that is pure Appalachia -- and that's a good thing. The vast majority of the book takes place in Lee County, VA, in the extreme southwestern corner of the state. Demon lives with his alcoholic mother in a single-wide trailer owned by the Peggots down the road. He's forced to mother his own mother, getting her through her days, until she dies of an overdose on his eleventh birthday. Then he's thrown into foster care, enduring one bad situation after another -- abuse, child labor, drugs, the works. His luck turns and he becomes a star football player in high school, but a knee injury knocks him out for the season and the only real treatment he's given is a prescription for pain pills. This is the era of the opioid epidemic in Appalachia, and Demon and his friends all end up addicted.

Kingsolver takes an unflinching look at the foster care system and the damage opioids have done to the region. But to be honest, Appalachia has been forgotten, except as the butt of too many jokes, for decades. The opioid crisis is just the latest in a series of exploitations of the people who have lived there for generations; as someone in the novel observes, if it hadn't been OxyContin, it would have been something else.

The book is infuriating in places, too, as when we learn that none of the money from the opioid legal settlements has ever gotten back to the victims.

But it's not all grim. Kingsolver is masterful in describing the beauty of the land. And there are funny parts, as when Demon describes an outfit his friend Maggot is wearing: "...the neon mesh sleeves and giant black pants that he and his Batcave pals got at their Goth outfitters place over to Christiansburg. Chains all up and down the legs, so if you needed to put the boy on a leash you'd find many convenient attachment points."

Dickens shone a light on the ills of London society and helped to make things better for the downtrodden. I'm not sure Kingsolver's book will have the same kind of impact -- our society is too different, our attention scattered and our interests siloed -- but I hope it gets people's attention, if for no other reason than to convince folks to lay off the hillbilly jokes. As Demon observes, "We can hear you."

The Washington Post review says Demon Copperhead may be the best book of 2022. It's definitely the best I've read this year.


For those who care about that sort of thing, I paid for my copy of Demon Copperhead.


I'll do a crafts post next week, I promise.


These moments of bloggy book reviewing have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!


Anonymous said...

This might be a bit out of my usual reading, but thanks for the recommendation. I may give it a go.

However, you cannot be surprised that my focus will be on The Killing God starting on Tuesday.

Lynne Cantwell said...

I totally get that, and I will be doing the same as you, come Tuesday. :)