Book Notes: Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead

I know everybody must be sick of me going into periodic raptures over untranslated Spanish books nobody can read. Now, finally, I can share a paroxysm of joy over a novel in English.

People, American literature is back. The endless procession of novels about wealthy New Yorkers experiencing midlife crises and adolescent traumas of boys growing up in mansions has been broken. We can now finally read about things that matter.

First of all, I have to mention that the novel is beautifully written. Almost 600 pages, and you still feel robbed when the book ends. A very unique, extremely funny but also heart-mangling narrative voice. It’s the kind of a narrator that gets into your bones and stays there. To write a character like that is a lifetime achievement for an author.

Demon Copperhead is about family dysfunction, poverty, and the blight of opioids in Appalachia. I sincerely don’t understand how anybody can write about America today and not write about addiction. And now we finally have a big, serious novel about addiction as experienced by people who are not rich, bored dweebs.

I almost didn’t buy the novel because several reviews I read said it’s too political. Kingsolver writes with great love and admiration towards the people whom the more spoiled among us refer to as “deplorables”, and I guess that was the political aspect some readers couldn’t stomach. There’s also a paragraph where a character – a poor, confused, uneducated boy – alights on some silly online theory to explain the immiseration of his region. People tend to confuse the author and the characters, so maybe they perceived that as a political statement instead of an illustration of how desperate people clutch at straws to explain their situation.

In any case, it’s s great great novel. Please give yourself a gift of reading it. I’ve been asked several times if there are American novels of the crisis, and now I can say that finally there is at least one.


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