Based on Dickens' David Copperfield, Demon Copperhead is set in the mountains of southern Appalachia. It's 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.
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.