“The wonder is that you could start life with nothing, end with nothing, and lose so much in between.”—Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead.
This is my third book by Barbara Kingsolver. Prior to Demon Copperhead, her most famous book was probably The Poisonwood Bible, the story of a missionary family in the Belgian Congo in 1959. It’s a novel I’ll never forget. I also enjoyed Prodigal Summer, in which she uses her knowledge of nature to weave together three stories of life in Appalachia. Neither compares to sheer brilliance to Demon Copperhead. I know this will be one of my favorite reads of 2023—maybe ever.
Barbara Kingsolver’s monumental historical novel about the tumultuous journey of a teenage boy in southern Appalachia won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2023), the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2023), a New York Times “Ten Best Books of 2022,” and was a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction (2022). She deserves all these accolades… and more! A prolific writer, each of her books since 1993 has been on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Demon Copperhead is a contemporary adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Victorian masterpiece David Copperfield (1850), narrated by the son of an Appalachian teenager named Damon Fields, who uses his good looks, charm, and wit, to navigate foster care, child labor, athletic success, addiction, disastrous romances, and crushing losses. An orphan, the boy known as Demon Copperhead for his fiery locks, grows up in a poverty-stricken holler in Lee County, Virginia where methamphetamine and opioid use are epidemic. The plot never pauses for breath, and it captivated me throughout all 546 pages.
While many parts of the book are tragic, Kingsolver prose also shimmer with humor. I found it especially fascinating that she could channel the authentic thoughts and emotions of a teenage boy. The ensemble of characters is extraordinary, and her storytelling is powerful. I can sum Demon Copperhead up in one word: brilliant! 5 stars.