Demon Copperhead

Demon Copperhead, the bighearted ninth novel from Barbara Kingsolver (Unsheltered; Flight Behavior; The Poisonwood Bible), follows the contours of Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, transplanting the plot to 1990s southwest Virginia to uncover the perils of opiate addiction. Ten-year-old Damon Fields earned his nickname for his red hair, passed on (along with some impudence) from his father. He lives in a trailer home with his addict mother, who is employed at Walmart, and his new stepfather, Stoner, a mean trucker. Tragedy strikes and Damon moves between several foster homes before running away. "A kid is a terrible thing to be, in charge of nothing," he remarks, looking back. He joins the JV football team in high school and boards with Coach Winfield. When a knee injury gets him hooked on pain pills, Damon's challenge is to resist the darkness that engulfed his mother and threatens his girlfriend, Dori.

Fans of Dickens will enjoy spotting one-to-one correlations--assistant coach Ryan "U-Haul" Pyles is creepy Uriah Heep, for instance--but there's no need to read David Copperfield beforehand. Kingsolver spins terrific scenes of picking tobacco and hitchhiking into Tennessee. Damon's irrepressible, sassy voice is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield's ("I thought my life couldn't get any worse. Here's some advice: Don't ever think that"), and he takes willful pride in the term "hillbilly," calling the newspaper comic strip he creates Red Neck.

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. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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