Thursday, June 8, 2023

REVIEW: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver



I've been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver since she altered my universe with The Poisonwood Bible. When a dear friend offered her copy of Demon Copperhead to me to read while I recovered from surgery, I couldn't refuse...and bonus: right when I got it, they announced the novel as the Pulitzer Prize winner.

Demon Copperhead was an intense read; there were many times I had to take a prolonged break from it because it made me so hurt or angry or frustrated. Our protagonist, Demon (aka Damon), was seemingly doomed from the beginning. He was born to an addict (to her credit, she kept trying her best for him), lived through an abusive stepfather situation, then through horrible foster care conditions, became a runaway only to find his biological grandmother who finally gave him some hope for stability. Each of these hardships were extended and sometimes brutal to read, but I suppose, in reflection, they made the more hopeful sections that much more elevated. 

When Demon finally got some stability, he temporarily flourished. He had a little room to breathe and even though he never really felt like he was family in his new home, he had people who cared for him and thought of him as such. As he grew into his late teendom, he fell in love with the absolute worst person to fall in love with and found himself in a downward spiral. With her assistance he managed to sabotage every good thing he'd acquired. He discovered the dark underbelly of being addicted to painkillers and how hard they are to resist. For years he alienated the people who loved him and kept making the worst choices. Of course he justified them and he, at times, tried to be a good person, but his addiction just made him a pretty yuck version of himself. It was during this part of the reading that I just found myself so angry--I felt my disappointment and frustration viscerally and had to walk away from Demon before I did something silly. 

Barbara Kingsolver had me by the throat and I had to go back in and finish and I'm so glad I did. The final section showed strength and truth and hope and when I put the book down, I could finally breathe again. She'd given Demon an unconventional family in his neighbors, his grandmother, a foster sibling, some teachers, and in Angus; it was with these characters that we get to see Demon as the kind, talented, caring person who is so loved and cherished that he can't end as a the frustrating drug addict he once was. Thank goodness.

Even on the hardest day of reading, I couldn't help but want to pick it up again. These characters became so important to me that I talked about them to whoever would listen and now they're taking up space in my heart and mind.



From the acclaimed author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees, a brilliant novel that enthralls, compels, and captures the heart as it evokes a young hero’s unforgettable journey to maturity

Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, Demon Copperhead 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. Relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon 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.

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