Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver Novel

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Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. The “ novel” is both a heartbreaking and beautiful little story of love & loss, strength & finding your way. This impressive and superb novel will keep you up for many days and nights as it tells a great story for the reader of all ages.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver overview

In “Demon Copperhead,” Barbara Kingsolver offers a close retelling of Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” which is either a baffling choice or an ingenious maneuver by a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer selected for Oprah’s Book Club who regularly—inevitably, even—appears on the paper’s best-seller list, all while garnering a surprising amount of stinging pans from critics.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver Novel 1
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver Novel 1

Kingsolver’s resurrection of Dickens’ most sentimental (though cherished by many, including me) novel might seem a little odd — like Harry Styles releasing a song-for-song remake of the original cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific recording.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

But then from another angle: Barbara Kingsolver would of course retell Dickens. He was always her ancestor. Like Dickens, she is unflinchingly political and works on a grand scale, enlivening her pages with the presence of seemingly every creeping creature that has ever crept upon the earth. Exhuming it is a way for her to explicitly stake a claim to a legacy at a time when exuberant, boisterous, activist novels are out of fashion. It is an argument that this loss of prestige is unwarranted, ephemeral, even backward, and a rebuttal to the notion that ideologues cannot make great novelists or that novels are no longer credible instruments of social change.

Before we consider these questions: plot. Damon Fields was born in southwest Virginia in the late 1980s to a teenage mother who had given birth to gin, amphetamines and Vicodin. An attitude problem soon earned him the nickname “The Demon”. His hair color explains “Copperhead”. When Mom overdoses, the demon becomes a ward of the state, meaning it undergoes a transformation from “boy” to “inventory.” He is obsessed with Marvel superheroes and draws his own comics. In fifth grade, he happens to work in a meth store.

High school football brings a brief spell of glory. Then: a knee injury, prescription painkillers, opioid addiction, young love, and an inexorable chain of tragedies punctuated by sporadic small victories. While it’s technically legal to spoil the ending of a story invented 173 years ago, I won’t, except to note that Kingsolver’s solution differs in one major way from that of “David Copperfield,” which is almost universally considered a disappointment.

Like Dickens, Kingsolver generates momentum by galloping the reader through escapades that build up to advance a larger question—in this case, how the artist’s consciousness is formed. The intellectual and spiritual quest at the heart of both novels is met with resistance in the form of problems with a capital I. For Kingsolver, these include poverty and rural dispossession, as well as the shortcomings of American public education, health care, and child welfare institutions. But her primary target is Purdue Pharma, a Sackler-owned company that has contributed heavily to the opioid crisis with its aggressive (and spectacularly lucrative) push for OxyContin.

Anyone who has needed medical care in the United States knows the torture of endless waiting: that particular circle of hell in which a patient languishes with no idea when, how or if he will be treated or how much it will cost, or what various malpractices may lead to. Demon’s story of addiction is terribly believable. After an injury on the field, he requires X-rays and an M.R.I. There is a three-week wait for appointments. The Lortab prescription is meant to be temporary. But one thing leads to another. …

Addiction itself is not a passive state. It takes considerable effort to raise the money and procure the cloth and file the cloth and maintain whatever choreography of concealment the custom requires to be prolonged. Demon’s drug-seeking efforts are rare moments of agency in an otherwise passive existence. A coach pushes him into football, a doctor lures him into painkillers, a girlfriend lures him into fentanyl, and a friend lures him into setting up a robbery. Opioid forgetfulness is only the logical and depressing apotheosis of his constitution. If the demon is essentially passive, then he is most himself in the unconscious.

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