Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver is perhaps one of her finest books – and most certainly one of my favorite books of 2022. Though it’s not an easy read – think abuse, neglect, orphans, a corrupt foster care system, and the Opiod Crisis – it is an important one.
In an interview, Barbara Kingsolver said that she wanted to call attention to the people in her community, in Appalachia – a flyover place associated with hillbillies, mining, despondency, and more recently, targets for the drug industry in the Opiod crisis. She wanted to put faces to the caricatures and real stories to the stereotypes that have provided fodder for the media. She has a worthy character in Demon Copperhead. He’s likable – a character who has all the best intentions to live the best life, but none of the opportunities. To say that Demon Copperhead is down-on-his luck is akin to saying that David Copperfield was having a bad day. And Kingsolver’s novel was inspired by that Dickens’ masterpiece. In fact, she notes that while touring Dickens’ home, she felt his encouragement to write the book – one that had been percolating in her head since the beginning of the Opiod crisis. And she began that day, penning the opening sentences while sitting at Dickens’ desk.
Born to a drug-addicted sixteen-year-old mother, Demon is cursed from birth – born onto the kitchen floor of his mother’s trailer with the amniotic sack still intact – he at least is assured by old wives tales, to not have to suffer the fate of drowning, as his father has before his birth. Small consolation for Demon, who experiences abuse at the hands of a stepfather, eventually being placed in a series of nightmarish foster homes that are in the system for either the money or free labor.
But Kingsolver likes her readers – and she wanted to end the book on a hopeful note. In a final transition to a dream foster home with the coach of the high school football team, Demon excels at football, until an injury and an incompetent doctor usher him into an addiction to Opiods. But the hope lies therein – what didn’t kill him, made him stronger. By this point in the book, dear reader, we know that Demon is resilient, he’s Teflon, he’s going to suffer, and the people he loves are not all going to make it out alive, but Demon, Demon is going to be all right.
Demon Copperhead is a propulsive read – an unflagging and intense gaze into the heart of the people victimized by big Pharma and the Opiod Crisis. Kingsolver never disappoints.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:00 pm on WTIP Radio 90.7 Grand Marais, MN or stream them from the web at http://www.wtip.org.