Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, this is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. In a plot that never pauses for breath, relayed in his own unsparing voice, he braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.
The above paragraph taken from Goodreads sets up this novel perfectly.
I’ve long been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver. She’s one of the most brilliant writers alive today. But when I saw that this novel was taken from parts of Charles Dickens’s DAVID COPPERFIELD, well, I was skeptical. I was never able to enjoy that old classic years and years ago when forced to read it in high school. Why would I want to torture myself? Well, that would be because this is Barbara Kingsolver. So I took a big breath and began reading my digital copy.
Barbara has outdone herself once again. The voice of the main character is astonishingly authentic. How she did this is beyond me. The plight of Damon aka Demon is heartbreaking but told with wit. The story echoes the times. This young man was born into this crazy world to a teen aged mother who was an alcoholic. His father died of suspicious means before he was born. What a start. Where is this? Appalachia of course.
Kingsolver has written about this poverty-stricken area before. She lives there so she knows it well. Addiction, alcoholism, and poverty as well as unemployment. Then there is the foster system that is entirely broken. Once Damon’s mother dies of an overdose he is swept into the system and sent to live with a widower who takes in boys on his farm for a price. And works them hard and practically starves them. It’s humbling and very sad. But through this time Damon continues to move forward and attend school when he can. Until he gets caught up in drugs.
At one point in the book Damon says everyone is taking pills. It does seem like it. In Damon’s case he has a football injury and instead of getting surgery coach gets him another kind of help: oxycontin. Yes, this takes place during the beginnings of the oxy nation. Damon continues on the pills instead of ever getting the surgical help he truly needs. It was so easy to get meds. Pill mills were rampant especially here in the land of the poor and mostly uneducated. Damon’s girlfriend becomes addicted while taking care of her terminally ill father. Of course he was on every sort of pain med available and with real scripts. Her story is especially painful to read.
I have never taken so long to read a book in my life. It was almost torturous at times. I began to wonder if everyone was going to die. Many people do die and in various awful ways. Thankfully, I know only what I’ve read about addiction. I have learned more than I ever wanted to know in this novel. The research must have been staggering and exhausting. To think there are really people who have become dope sick in this country even now…. Crying shame.
My favorite of Kingsolver’s books has to be POISONWOOD BIBLE. It’s become a classic. I am sure DEMON COPPERHEAD will be one too. It’s one of the toughest reads…. But will be on everyone’s lists to read this year.
I read my copy digitally. It was provided by Harper Collins via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. One of the most important books of the year. Brilliantly written.
And as most of you already know the reason it took me so long to read is because of a little storm named Ian blowing through my house in September, then a raging case of Shingles. Who knew?