Book Review :: Demon Copperhead

Book Review Demon Copperhead
Book Review Demon Copperhead

Who knew a tale spun out of the Appalachian addiction-stricken poverty could contain such beauty in language, but that’s what we have with Demon Copperhead. Barbara Kingsolver’s latest tome is a modern retelling of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. And while I haven’t read the Dickens’ classic, what I know of his writings on orphans and the systemic issues that plague them, Kingsolver selected a sadly appropriate environment to transport her re-creation.

She’s a master at language, setting and characters that wrench your heart out. And lest my review not be clear, this is easily the best book I read in 2022. (I had to check the date I finished this one, which was in December 2021.)

Summary of Demon Copperhead

Told in first person, Demon Copperhead – a nickname based on his given name of Damon and his flaming red hair – escorts readers through his life. From the difficulty of getting born to an addicted mother, navigating abusive foster situations, to devising survival routes at any cost, Demon is growing up and trying to finagle ways to capitalize on any opportunity that he’s given.

His father died before he was born, but not so early as to miss telling Demon’s paternal grandmother. Their presence in his early life is more myth than anything. However, when Demon finds himself out of options, he goes in search of this last relation, hoping she’ll offer some consideration to her child’s son.

Over and over, Demon has to put his last chip on the table and pray the house doesn’t win. Despite constant self-doubt, Demon ultimately has to bet on himself and an innate talent for drawing human likenesses which he’s continually fostered.

Reading Experience

I listened to Demon Copperhead as an audio book, but like Poisenwood Bible, I was struck by Kingsolver’s ability to turn a phrase and create such beauty from language. Had I physically read it, there would likely be examples in quotes and passages included in this review. As it is, you’ll have to trust me.

In addition to the language, Kingsolver creates incredibly memorable personalities. Aside from the title character and perhaps another nod to Dickens’, there are people you know and others you hope you never know, but understand are all too real.

As I mentioned, I haven’t read David Copperfield, but I plan to solve that fairly soon. And, I look forward to rereading – this time physically – Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead, knowing that the two together will be an even richer reading experience.

Avid readers will love this tale, and I expect this to be a favorite among book clubs in the coming year.

Book Club Prompts

If you’ve read David Copperfield (or given what you know of…), how are the books similar or different?

There’s a promise spoken over Demon when he’s born. How does that promise come into play throughout Demon’s life?

Demon experiences several “families.” How does each one contribute to his survival?

Where do institutions or government systems help or fail Demon?

Other than Demon, who is your favorite character and why?

Appalachia literature that features rampant drug abuse and poverty has suffered criticism in recent years. How do you think those critics will respond to Demon Copperhead?


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