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November 29, 2022

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

"Anyone will tell you the born of this world are marked from the get-out, win or lose."
(p 2)

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book cover of literary fiction novel Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
October 2022; Harper; 978-0063251922
audio, ebook, print (560 pages); literary fiction

As soon as I read that Barbara Kingsolver had a new book coming out after four long years of waiting, I pre-ordered it from Amazon so that I'd have my copy on publication day.  My copy arrived mid-afternoon and I started reading it within the hour.  It's a long book and needed to be read slowly so that the reader could totally absorb all of the beautiful writing so it took me a couple of days to finish but reading it was my most important task each day.  When I closed the book at the end, I felt like I'd been on a journey of understanding of the main character and the changes in his life.  It's been over a month since I finished Demon Copperhead and I am still thinking about the main character and the journey in his life.

This novel is set in the mountains of southern Appalachia and starts when Damon is born.  Born to a single teenage drug-addicted mother in a single-wide trailer he starts out with the cards stacked against him.  As a kid, none of this really matters to him - he has friends and the great outdoors to explore.  Sure he had to be a parent to his mom and make sure that she got to work each day but life was still fulfilling for him.  He didn't have a lot of clothes and he was bullied at school but he had a strong sense for survival and did the best he could do.  After his mother dies of an overdose, he finds himself in foster care at 11 years old. The author goes into great detail about the failings of the foster care system.  Many of the foster parents were only concerned with getting a monthly check for being a foster parent and didn't care for the foster children.  Demon ended up doing almost slave labor on a farm, working in a trash dump that fronted for a meth lab and trying to survive on his own despite the cruelness of the foster parents.  When he finally got placed in a wonderful home, he couldn't relax enough to enjoy it but he soon became a star player on the football team and became popular overnight.  When a serious injury on the field starts him on the path to opioid addiction, his life begins to move into a fast downward spiral.  Will he be able to save himself from the drug-addicted world that he's become part of and does anyone in his life really care?

The author went into a lot of description about the opioid crisis in rural southern areas and the part that the big pharmaceutical companies played in introducing Oxycontin - in fact pushing this drug - into the hands of people of all ages by promising that it wasn't addictive and could cure whatever their problem was.
Demon was a wonderful main character.  He knew right from the beginning of his life that he wouldn't have many chances to succeed in life and he approached some of the bad things that happened in his life as situations that couldn't be avoided and tried to make the best of everything by keeping his expectations for his future low.  This epic story of his life is full of depressing situations - foster care, child labor, drug addiction but Demon is a resilient young man who goes through it all and still has hopes for a happier future. 

The writing is beautiful and despite the depressing situations, the major feeling is one of hope for the future.  This book will definitely be in my top ten books of the year and is one of the few books that I'm sure I'll re-read in the future.

Buy Demon Copperhead at Amazon

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west.  She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.  You can connect with her on Facebook.

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  1. I loved Kingsolver's earliest novels and hope this one is like those. She is very good and I need to get a copy of this one.