I already know: My favorite novel of 2022 is Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, this is the story of an irrepressible boy nobody wants, but readers will love ... In a feat of literary alchemy, Kingsolver uses the fire of that boy’s spirit to illuminate — and singe — the darkest recesses of our country ... Kingsolver has reconceived the story in the fabric of contemporary life. Demon Copperhead is entirely her own thrilling story, a fierce examination of contemporary poverty and drug addiction tucked away in the richest country on Earth ... There’s the saving grace. This would be a grim melodrama if it weren’t for Demon’s endearing humor, an alloy formed by his unaffected innocence and weary cynicism ... With Demon Copperhead, she’s raised the bar even higher, providing her best demonstration yet of a novel’s ability to simultaneously entertain and move and plead for reform.
Extraordinary ... With plenty of wisdom and strategically placed infusions of heart, it offers a bird’s-eye view into the day-to-day of a group of people often misrepresented or misunderstood ... Kingsolver is actually at her best when balancing...fury with allowing Demon’s fierce devotion to his home and the people in it to shine through ... On a micro level, Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead is chock-full of cinematic twists and turns that might not be for the faint of heart but are also not that surprising given the book’s subject matter.
It’s not clear that using David Copperfield is the best way to tell Demon’s story ... Kingsolver must make clear Demon’s straitened circumstances. She hangs markers of poverty — the coal country location, a town considered 'right poor' — like wind chimes on Demon’s single-wide trailer to catch her readers’ ears ... In Kingsolver’s depiction of her Appalachian setting, virtually no one gets out alive. Kingsolver makes little mention of Appalachian history or resilience ... In seeking to raise awareness of child hunger and poverty in the United States, Kingsolver turns her characters’ lives into tales of misery and the inevitability of failure. Her characters wallow in dark hollows with little light, condemned to forever repeat the horrific mistakes of previous generations. She makes the people of Appalachia into objects of pity, but in doing so, also intimates that falling into drug abuse, rejecting education, and 'clinging' to their ways are moral choices that keep them in their dire circumstances ... Novels entertain, and many have also argued that reading novels increases our empathy for others. But one of the problems with social novels intended to heighten our understanding is that in writing about traumas, the writer risks turning suffering into entertainment, and stripping the characters of agency ... Demon Copperhead becomes a form of poverty porn, a slum tour where pity is the price of the ride. Those on display can only stare back.
Sprawling, brilliant ... Demon Copperhead narrates his own story in a witty cadence ... Despite its bulk — almost 600 pages — Demon Copperhead is a page-turner, and Kingsolver's best novel by far. That's saying something — she's written many brilliant ones ... This novel's oomph lies in its narration — a taut, witty telling by Damon, long grown, about his mine-laden youth. Its only flaw also lies in that narration, when Kingsolver wanders off from the story at hand to lay out long, didactic sermons about what is wrong with America today ... Yet, there is less of that flawed Kingsolver veering than usual in this novel. For the most part, the writing is fine, so much so that you'll stop to reread some parts aloud, just to salute them ... She is our literary mirror and window. May this novel be widely read and championed.
A close retelling of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, which is either a baffling choice or an ingenious maneuver ... Kingsolver’s resurrection of Dickens’s most sentimental...novel might seem a bit strange ... From another angle: Of course Barbara Kingsolver would retell Dickens. He has always been her ancestor. Like Dickens, she is unblushingly political and works on a sprawling scale, animating her pages with the presence of seemingly every creeping thing that has ever crept upon the earth ... Although it is technically legal to spoil the ending of a story devised 173 years ago, I won’t, except to note that Kingsolver’s resolution departs in one major way from that of David Copperfield, which is almost universally regarded as a disappointment ... Kingsolver generates momentum by galloping the reader through escapades that accumulate to advance a larger question ... In a novel ostensibly about self-creation, Demon’s addiction is a narrative impasse ... These are premise problems, not sentence problems. Kingsolver’s prose is often splendid ... Credit where due: It’s hard to think of another living novelist who could take a stab at Dickens and rise above the level of catastrophe ... Caught between polemic and fairy tale, Kingsolver is stuck with an anticlimax ... It is meant to pass for a happy ending.
A clever and grimly fitting conceit ... Some of the flaws in her approach still apply here – the notes of sanctimony, the occasional compulsion to lecture. But the voice of Demon, the novel’s puckish narrator, is so original, and the plot so engrossingly hectic, that there’s less room for that didacticism to intrude ... Demon Copperhead is more interesting in the places where it doesn’t strictly map to its source material ... Kingsolver’s challenge is to make her hero a success story in the midst of tragedy and precarity ... She pulls it off in part thanks to some clever plotting. But the story is mainly buoyed by Demon’s voice.
It takes a lot of brass to undertake writing a contemporary version of Charles Dickens’ beloved novel David Copperfield. And it takes brilliance to pull it off. Barbara Kingsolver has both ... Although Dickens’ book is woven into this novel’s DNA, it won’t matter if you never read David Copperfield and faked your way through that 10th-grade book report. Demon Copperhead stands on its own.
One needn’t have read Dickens to appreciate Kingsolver’s novel, as the book stands well on its own ... Undeniably, the book can be challenging to read and, frankly, it is not going to suit everyone. Aside from the profanity and compromising situations, it depicts heartbreaking circumstances imposed upon people already beset by severe challenges ... Kingsolver...gives the community a voice as she infuses the bleak tale with a depth that brings warmth, humor, and dignity to the characters. She empowers them to speak for themselves as she illuminates the motives and goals that allow some to succeed while others perish ... For many readers, sticking with the book is time well spent: Her exquisite writing takes a wrenching story and makes it worthwhile. The details are difficult, but they are never gratuitous.
If you’re familiar with the Charles Dickens classic, you’ll follow the story’s beats and chuckle when you meet the Pegs, Tommy Waddles and UHaul Pyles instead of the Peggottys, Tommy Traddles and Uriah Heep, but the story certainly stands on its own ... The voice takes some getting used to, but from the start the title character feels like a reliable narrator, telling it very much like it was ... Throughout it all, [Demon] remains a sympathetic character, at least in part because we know he’s telling his own story as a cautionary tale ... What keeps you turning the pages is the knowledge that Demon has a future. The novel ends on a note of hope.
Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel is her best in years ... I feared the conceit of a contemporary version of this classic might be an annoying gimmick. I could not have been more wrong ... But with all her interest in examining the roots of poverty in this region, she never loses sight of the storytelling ... Fast-paced ... You don’t need to have read David Copperfield to enjoy this page-turner, also filled with many richly drawn characters (maybe a few too many). But if you are a Dickens fan, you’ll appreciate the nods ... Few contemporary authors are as good as Kingsolver at capturing a sense of place.
Kingsolver reimagines and recaptures the soul and spirit of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield in her breathtaking new novel ... [Demon] talks through his experiences to the reader in a conversational manner, bringing a mischievous magnetism and wily sense of humour that warms your heart and imprints the character in your brain long after putting down the book. He is a hero worth rooting for ... A wondrous coming-of-age story worthy of comparison to its inspiration.
Throughout its nearly 600-page telling, Kingsolver does everything right, so that by the end of the story, it is not difficult to attach the word masterpiece to this novel. The author takes us on a journey with Demon that becomes more real than we’d perhaps like to acknowledge. But in Demon’s world, there is no escaping the brutal realities of life, as he hits one brick wall after another ... Kingsolver tells this story in vivid detail, infusing humor and heartache and love. But perhaps the one thing that attests to Demon’s resilience is his relentless hold on hope. Kingsolver’s palette has room to pen a compendium of stories that highlight recovery. We owe the children that much ... We know all too well the atrocities created from the opioid epidemic. If just the stories of destruction are told, how will we move past the stereotypes and have new stories of recovery—particularly ones from the children who have suffered and who continue to suffer. What Kingsolver does with Demon Copperhead is always the first step: giving voice to the silent, and not so silent, cries for help.
... feels in many ways like the book she was born to write ... The idealism and concern with social justice that are characteristic of Kingsolver’s worldview find their natural counterpart in Dickens’s impassioned social criticism. While the task of modernising his novel is complicated by the fact that mores have shifted so radically since the mid-19th century, the ferocious critique of institutional poverty and its damaging effects on children is as pertinent as ever ... Kingsolver knows, as Demon says, that 'a good story doesn’t just copy life, it pushes back on it', and a large part of the pleasure lies in seeing what she does with her source material. As a narrator, Demon is every bit as likable and nuanced as David, and the humour and pathos of his voice are enhanced by a slangy southern spin. Elsewhere the update is less successful. Dickens’s Micawbers are feckless but mean well; Kingsolver’s McCobbs are merely exploitative...But Kingsolver’s real masterstroke is to draw a parallel between the 'inborn power of attraction' that socially superior but toxic people like Steerforth have for David, and the quick fix that pills seem to offer Demon and almost everyone else in his dead-end world, including his waif-like girlfriend and fellow addict Dori and Mrs Peggot’s granddaughter Emmy, who falls for Fast Forward’s charm ... When you’re a child born into a life without choices, this powerful reworking suggests, being a hero sometimes consists simply of surviving against the odds.
Not...particularly easy...to read, either. Other novels that feature abject poverty and misery can sometimes transcend into beauty...but Demon Copperfield remains astonishingly bleak, misfortune piled on top of disappointment, then drugs, tragedy and death ... Yet, the granularity of its detail makes you feel like you are living alongside Demon for every minute of his blighted life, and Kingsolver never puts a foot wrong. It all comes across as entirely authentic, the work of a writer wholly appalled by what she sees, but who herself will not flinch from its ugly reality, or its human cost, not even for a moment.
... dazzling ... The social injustices of Victorian England have been transplanted, with spellbinding success, to modern-day Appalachia ... This serious subject matter belies the sheer fun that Kingsolver has with her endlessly inventive adaptation. Demon Copperhead is in constant conversation with its source, without becoming enslaved to it: it is a textual balancing act that puts, for example, Jonathan Franzen’s turgid Dickens homage Purity (2015) to shame ... If Dickens provides the cast and plot, this novel is vocally indebted to J. D. Salinger, by way of Mark Twain ... Spotting the modern counterparts to some of Dickens’s most memorable characters is a key pleasure...Kingsolver has a nice knack for nicknames ... If you don’t know David Copperfield there is still plenty here to enjoy, starting with the versatile vernacular of the narrative voice. Demon’s vocal rhythms are a compelling feat of characterization in their own right ... There are some implausibilities and slack patches...But for more than 500 pages Kingsolver maintains an astonishing level of energy and intensity ... The real wisdom of Demon Copperhead isn’t the insight Kingsolver brings to these urgent issues. It is artistic wisdom, the wisdom of restraint. This is a story with a clear social agenda, and Dickens, a lifelong advocate for the disadvantaged, is its perfect patron saint. Kingsolver arguably falls into the tricky category of activist-author, but what most impresses here is how lightly she treadles the preaching pedal. She has learnt from the best of Dickens that strong characterization, humour and a deluge of visual detail speak as powerfully as righteous invective ... this novel is surely a highpoint of her long career and a strong early candidate for next year’s Booker prize.
... it’s like Dickens directed by the Coen brothers ... Kingsolver proved a master mimic in The Poisonwood Bible, a book with five narrators. Demon Copperhead demands only one. The risk is that without Dickens’s sustained inventiveness, which drew on his own biography, the format becomes relentless. Thankfully, Demon is brilliantly multidimensional: breezy, sassy, lustful and phlegmatic. His Appalachian slang, Anglo-Saxon compound words and pithy putdowns approach a rough kind of poetry. He is especially alive to the injustices of childhood ... There are countless skilful tweaks to the source material ... doesn’t, then, capture Copperfield’s alternating layers of melodrama and comedy. Humour is not completely absent — in a macabre vignette, a town hangs a circus elephant with a giant noose — but it could be more generously served ... Kingsolver has produced a novel that is daring, entertaining, symbolic and highly readable — and therefore authentically Dickensian. I can’t think of higher praise.
Kingsolver fans are in for a treat with this latest novel — an electrifying reboot of Charles Dickens’ social epic David Copperfield ... Kingsolver charts the turbulence of the life that follows, with all its various achievements, addictions and disasters, in rollicking technicolour prose that simultaneously channels the imaginative vim of Dickens, the moral fury of his vision and the harrowing realism of her modern-day setting. Every sentence here sizzles.
With its bold reversals of fate and flamboyant cast, this is storytelling on a grand scale ... Kingsolver’s avowedly political intent as an author...smothered the creativity of her last novel...but is for the most part more subtly integrated here despite the book’s long list of righteous campaigns ... What a story it is: acute, impassioned, heartbreakingly evocative, told by a narrator who’s a product of multiple failed systems, yes, but also of a deep rural landscape with its own sustaining traditions.
Her fidelity to Dickens’s plot is an increasing distraction ... Rather than feeling for the characters’ wasted and brutalised lives, the reader is too busy focusing on Kingsolver’s virtuosic reworking of their models ... The narrative voice is a tour de force ... Demon...speaks in the authentic voice of a confused adolescent: breathlessly intense, sharp, knowing, full of pop-cultural references and increasingly hormonal. It’s the most powerful ventriloquist act by a female American author since Laura Albert assumed the identity of JT LeRoy.
The book is very faithful to its source material, going chapter by chapter and beat by beat to line up with Dickens’s original structure. In the abstract, it holds promise ... So on down the line, ticking boxes and changing names and circumstances ever so slightly, so that it begins to feel as if she pasted the text of David Copperfield and worked mostly through the Find + Replace function ... But one thing she apparently decided to Ctrl-X were all the funny bits, perhaps to cut the word count down by a couple of hundred pages. Beset by earnestness, Demon Copperhead breaks the most important rule of working in the Dickensian mode: you must show the reader a good time ... Demon Copperhead is only sad and glum, with every bad thing that happened in the original cranked up a bit ... This is less a novel, then, and more a political project, working hard to humanise a region where Kingsolver herself was born, and has lived for the past 20 years. But although she has tried to give a substantial weightiness to her characters by casting them in a classic work, all she has done is burden them with bloat.
... bighearted ... Fans of Dickens will enjoy spotting one-to-one correlations ... This novel about the resilience of the human spirit--an Appalachian cousin of Shuggie Bain that serves as the perfect fictional pairing with Beth Macy's Dopesick--showcases Kingsolver's trademark commitment to social justice.
A social justice novel all her own, one only she could write, for our time and for the ages. Master storyteller Kingsolver has given the world a book that will have a ripple effect through the generations ... Like all stories that stick with you, this one is both universal and decidedly personal ... The author’s superb foreshadowing helps anticipate the next dip in the road ... This isn't always a pretty book to read any more than drugs and poverty are pretty, but it's sprinkled with a creative boy's sarcastic southwestern Virginia humor and the beauty of the mountains. Do not let the length of this novel dissuade you. It’s needed for the breadth of the message and the vivid rendering of the story.
A tremendous narrative voice, one so sharp and fresh as to overwhelm the reader’s senses ... With each choice, Demon’s spirit comes through, and it is haunting. It’s the reason the pages keep turning, as it’s imperative for the reader to find out how he’s going to get out of the latest mess or scrape, how he’s going to find his family and his own story ... Kingsolver has made this story her own, and what a joy it is to slip into this world and inhabit it, even with all its challenges.
Kingsolver’s capacious, ingenious, wrenching, and funny survivor’s tale is a virtuoso present-day variation on Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, and she revels in creating wicked and sensitive character variations, dramatic trials-by-fire, and resounding social critiques, all told from Damon’s frank and piercing point of view in vibrantly inventive language. Every detail stings or sings as he reflects on nature, Appalachia, family, responsibility, love, and endemic social injustice. Kingsolver’s tour de force is a serpentine, hard-striking tale of profound dimension and resonance.
Deeply evocative ... Kingsolver’s account of the opioid epidemic and its impact on the social fabric of Appalachia is drawn to heartbreaking effect. This is a powerful story, both brilliant in its many social messages regarding foster care, child hunger, and rural struggles, and breathless in its delivery.
It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society ... An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
... the two central elements of Demon Copperhead are familiar, yet Kingsolver’s rich and lively style makes the whole thing feel fresh ... Though Dickens was a chronicler of the social ills of his time, his books were best loved as entertainment. Likewise, though Kingsolver takes aim at numerous social issues — institutional impoverishment, hillbilly prejudice, underfunding in school and social care systems, the modern opioid crisis — readers are more likely to warm to the story than any message it imparts.
Kingsolver’s intentions with this magisterial work are vaultingly ambitious; not for her a dull rehash of a Victorian classic. She takes the original story as a springboard to examine a society so ailing, the word bleak is a cheerful way to describe is. Although she does not have Dickens’ imagination, style or irrepressible humour, this is her homage to the nation’s overlooked, forgotten, and despised, and it is powerful ... Wisely, Kingsolver makes her narrator a live-wire, whose sparky observations – albeit precociously mature for his age – go some way to alleviating what would otherwise be unremitting gloom ... Kingsolver’s aim is to awaken awareness of misery on the doorsteps of her readers, for whom hillbilly addiction and destitution are a disgrace rather than a source of national shame. Yet for all its verve, and Kingsolver’s righteous indignation, Demon Copperfield falls far short as a retelling of Dickens’s novel. Shackled by its literary progenitor, it is never able fully to shrug off the cloak of an extraordinary writer with whom unfavourable comparisons will be drawn ... There are memorable moments and characters – notably Betsey’s disabled brother Dick – but at every turn you are looking for the originals on whom they are based. Good though her writing is, Kingsolver’s creations inevitably come up short.