Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

TitleDemon Copperhead
AuthorBarbara Kingsolver
Length546 pages
Finished Reading:May 29, 2023
Notable InfoPulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2023
Oprah’s Book Club, 2022
New York Times Ten Best Books of 2022
Best Seller of NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post lists
Ratings:Personal: ★★★★★ (5 Stars)
Amazon: 4.6 stars (63, 548 ratings)
Goodreads: 4.5 stars (204, 104 ratings)
The Details

Warning: Most of my blog posts have PG language. Not this one. The quotes have the language one would expect of a young drug addict.

This is a retelling of Charles Dickens David Copperfield placing it in the modern day Appalachian Mountains in Virginia instead of city life in Victorian England. It shows that the effects of grinding poverty, especially on the young has not improved enough in the past century and a half. Demon Copperhead, the narrator, sees it himself.

“Likewise the Charles Dickens one, seriously old buy, dead and a foreigner but Christ Jesus die he get the pictures on kids and orphans getting screwed over and nobody giving a rat’s ass. You’d think he was from around here.”

Page 374

The scourge of opioids is the gas that ignites the problems in this story. Damon Fields with his red hair goes by his nickname Demon Copperhead before he really has a say in it. His addicted mother gave birth to him alone at home after passing out.

“Thinking to dull the worst of [labor pains], she hit the Segram’s before noon, with enough white crosses to stay awake for more drinking, and some Vicodin after it’s all a bit too much.” 

Page 5

Before long he becomes a prisoner of the child welfare system being doled out to families who only want the monthly stipend and care only enough for the kids to get what labor they can from them.

“Was this me now, for life? Taking up space where people wished I wasn’t Once on a time I was something, and then I turned, like sour milk. The dead junkie’s kid. A rotten little piece of American pie that everybody wishes could just be, you know. Removed.”

Page 121

Demon is lucky enough to have some looking out for him to the best of their ability: Mrs Peg, his neighbor, his Aunt June, and later the high school football coach. But mostly he only has himself to count on.

“And if hard work counts for anything I was crushing it. Addiction is not for the lazy. The life has no ends of hazards, deadly ambushes lying in wait, and that’s just the drugs, not even discussing the people. If I was a fuckhead, I was one that knew how to apply himself It’s what Coach had seen in me. He said discipline, I would use other words. Surviving, Giving it all up, day in, day out, from the very beginning. Keeping Mom in one piece, then outdating Stoner, then being faster at whatever crap job was thrown at me, draining battery acid or topping tobacco. Football. I’d only ever lived one way, by devoting myself completely.”

Page 426

Based on a Dickens’ novel you are pretty sure that the protagonist will survive. 

This is a riveting book; one that I stayed up late a couple of nights to read. It works on may levels. It is a fast moving well paced action story; it provides an in depth look at the poor and addicted – mostly in Appalachia – but elsewhere too; a love story; stunning imagery and metaphors, strong characters, and a wonderful retelling of the Dicken’s classic.

Barbara Kingsolver dedicates this book to the victims.

“For the kids who wake up hungry in those dark places every day, who’ve lost their families to poverty and pain pills, whose caseworkers keep losing their files, who feel invisible, or wish they were: this book is for you.”

Page 547

I’ve finished another of her books (The Bean Trees) and have another one on my virtual bookshelf. Get a copy of Demon Copperhead and read it as soon as you can.

2 thoughts on “Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. This was one of the best books I have read in a long time. I started reading kingsolver 30 years ago- and the bean trees is among my favorites. I found some of her more recent books to be less to my liking- but demon copperfield certainly was a favorite.

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