Stunning! Epic! Where do I begin? Well the endnotes provide the framework for this extraordinary novel: Barbara Kingsolver thanks Charles Dickens for creating David Copperfield and writing about the damage poverty had on children at that time. Sadly, those problems are still with us. Our narrator Demon (born Damon) is born into abject poverty and addiction in Appalachia with few options for a happy and productive life. He is acutely aware he is poor but yet he is a proud boy who can still be hopeful and optimistic.
“𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘐 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘴𝘢𝘺 𝘪𝘧 𝘐 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥, 𝘵𝘰 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘮𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘱𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳𝘥𝘶𝘮𝘣 𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘣𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘫𝘰𝘬𝘦𝘴: 𝘞𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘭𝘭. 𝘞𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘶𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘳 𝘺𝘰𝘶.”
This book is also a damning indictment of the American foster care system and the effects of poverty and hunger on our nation’s children. Drugs and addiction seem to be the common thread tying everything and everyone together in this poverty-stricken section of Kentucky:
“𝘞𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘸, 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦? 𝘛𝘢𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘶𝘱 𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘱𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘭𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘥 𝘐 𝘸𝘢𝘴𝘯’𝘵? 𝘖𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘰𝘯 𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘐 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘐 𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥, 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘬. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘥𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘫𝘶𝘯𝘬𝘪𝘦’𝘴 𝘬𝘪𝘥. 𝘈𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘯 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦 𝘱𝘪𝘦𝘤𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘱𝘪𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘣𝘰𝘥𝘺 𝘸𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦, 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸. 𝘙𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘥.”
It’s not all rage and sadness though, as Demon is an incredible narrator, showing wit and smarts and a will to survive. The ending also gives the reader a glimmer of hope for Demon’s future. This book might be my favorite book of 2022.
About the Book:
Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, this is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. In a plot that never pauses for breath, relayed in his own unsparing voice, he braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.
Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens’ anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind.