This Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2023 and Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023 winner by Barbara Kingsolver is a gripping modern retelling of Charles Dickens's 'David Copperfield' set in the Southern Appalachia in the United States during the '90s opioid epidemic . A sensational 'Book of the Moment' for book clubs.
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This award winning novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2023 and Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023) by Barbara Kingsolver is a gripping modern retelling of Charles Dickens's 'David Copperfield' set in the Southern Appalachia in the United States during the '90s opioid epidemic and a sensational 'Book of the Moment' for book clubs!
Demon Copperhead’s childhood in Lee Valley is harsh and unforgiving. Born to a teenage drug addict, orphaned on his 10th birthday, rejected by his step father, he moves from one exploitive foster home to another. Thrown into a world of drugs, poverty and homelessness, Demon finds it impossible to stay on the straight and narrow. But Demon is nothing if not charismatic, with his striking ‘copper’ hair, natural talent and a dream to reach the ocean.
Demon has several lifelines, one being the wonderful caring Mrs Peggot (Dickens ‘Peggotty’) who despite showing him love and generosity is ultimately unable to provide him a secure home. Also his paternal grandmother who arranges for him to live with Coach Winfield, a well-regarded school football coach and his determined tomboy daughter known as ‘Angus’ (Dickens ‘Agnes Wickfield’) who live in a dilapidated mansion in Jonesville. Suddenly the focus of his life is given to education, art and success on the football field. However the unnerving creepy presence of the coach’s assistant U-Haul (Dickens ‘Uriah Heep’) hovers in the background. You always sense through Demon that he knows this new life is too good to be true. When he falls in love with an equally damaged teenager Dori, who has left school to look after her sick father the two of them spiral out of control.
The key to this mesmerising story is Demon’s narration whose voice is so real and funny. Kingsolver brilliantly captures his childlike innocence coupled with his savvy intelligence and ability to survive. He is sharp, spirited, pragmatic and occasionally vulnerable but at the same time there is such humour with an understated irony given to his desperate situation and continual knock backs. He describes himself and his friends as “Four demons spawned by four starving hearts” and concludes "The wonder is that you could start life with nothing and lose so much in between.”
It is uncomfortable to think that this story is relating to 1990’s America. Kingsolver is a masterful storyteller and by setting the story in her own community of Appalachia, she cleverly intertwines the opioid crisis of these deprived areas with her desire for recognition for the need for change and support. It is a forgotten part of American society, not deprived of food, space, or countryside, but of education, opportunities, and support, where it becomes too easy for vulnerable young people to be caught up in an unforgiving and corrupt child welfare system. Kingsolver has successfully used an English classical novel to highlight a modern American equivalent and achieved a wonderful balance, of providing a page-turning addictive read with a message not to neglect this forgotten and poverty stricken generation.
For those who enjoy audio this story is excellently brought to life Charlie Thurston.