A Classic Tale With a Modern Twist   Leave a comment

Barbara Kingsolver acknowledges a connection with Charles Dickens, which explains the many similarities between her most recent novel, Demon Copperhead, and the classic David Copperfield. Admittedly, I’ve forgotten a lot about the latter, but recall enough to know they both deal with contemporary social issues of their times. For Dickens, child labor, squalid living conditions and long-standing poverty in 1800s London were among the problems he addressed.

Kingsolver sets her narrative in southern Appalachia where Demon, an exceptionally reliable narrator, tells his life’s story beginning with his birth in a single-wide trailer to an unwed mother prone to addiction. If not for the kindness of neighbors, the Peggots, who temporarily and intermittently become his surrogate family, Demon likely would have ended up in foster care long before he did.

The topics Kingsolver focuses on include physical abuse, disarray within the foster care system, child labor, the elevation of high school football over classroom education and widespread drug addiction. Demon is a victim of these and more. Despite often making poor decisions – without consistent role models there’s little reason to expect otherwise – he’s intelligent and self-aware. He’s also caring and resilient.

Demon is artistic and a keen observer of his situation and those around him. His hunger in one foster home is palpable, as is his fear when he runs away.  Besides the Peggots, a handful of other adults try to help Demon, but their rural community has access to ill-gotten pharmaceuticals with few resources to focus on their consequences.

Demon Copperhead

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

Harper, 2022

548 pages, includes acknowledgements

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