by Barbara Kingsolver
read by Charlie Thurston
HarperAudio, 2022. 21 hours, 3 minutes.
Review written June 30, 2023, from a library eaudiobook
2023 Pulitzer Prize Winner
2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner
I’ll be honest: When I was in the middle of this long audiobook, I wasn’t enjoying it much. It tells the story of Demon Copperhead — a kid named Damon, who, like the father who died before he was born, had red hair. He was born in the very rural Lee County, Virginia, to an addict Mom, and bad things just kept happening to him, so the book was somewhat depressing. I kept listening, because it was written by Barbara Kingsolver, who is a truly amazing author.
There was abuse from a stepdad, overdose death of his mother, terrible foster home situations, and eventually getting addicted himself. The narrator had such an authentic rural Virginia accent, I was surprised when he spoke at the end of the book in the “thank you for reading this book” section without the accent.
Something the author does to make all this terrible stuff tolerable is telling the story from the perspective of an older Demon telling about his life. So we know he’s going to survive and get through these awful things. And when things take a particularly bad turn, there’s plenty of foreshadowing, with him wondering if he had done things differently in the events leading up to the disaster, if that would have helped. Or talking about how he didn’t fully appreciate it when things were good — so you know his troubles aren’t over.
When I was in the middle thinking I was tired of listening to it and that I don’t enjoy listening to a rural southern accent as much as a British one — that was when the kids in the story noticed that the media portrays to the world that rural southerners and hillbillies are stupid. Touché! As I began thinking I didn’t really like spending all that time in Demon’s life — then he naturally in the story pointed out that’s how the media wants me to think.
The book also showed the opioid crisis and how it gained full steam. (I’m going to call it Historical because it begins in the 1990s.) The drug companies actually looked for populations likely to get hooked and sent their representatives there, giving doctors kickbacks if they prescribed the addictive painkillers. Damon got hooked after a football injury — beginning by only taking exactly what was prescribed. The whole awful situation is told in a way that reminds the reader that these are people’s lives that were destroyed, not some kind of lazy subhumans who deserved their fate.
And yes, by the time I’d listened to all 21 hours of this book, I was glad I did. I ended up having a much higher view of the folks in the communities portrayed, and I was pleased and proud to have spent so much of my time with a kid who got way more than his share of tough breaks in life, but whose heart shines like gold.
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.
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