The opening sentence of Demon Copperfield: “First, I got myself born.”
Barbara Kingsolver had wanted to write a novel about the human individuals behind the statistics of the opioid crisis in Appalachia. She’d been thinking for some time about how to do that, and hadn’t been satisfied with her ideas. And then she happened to stay in Bleak House, one of the places Charles Dickens had lived in Kent, UK. Dickens inspired her to tell her modern story based on the plot of his old one, David Copperfield.
I’ve read a handful of Dickens, but not that one. Now it’s definitely the next classic I’ll read.
In Kingsolver’s novel, Demon (nicknames are common in this region, apparently) was born in the caul, and this is what he has to say about that:
“It was a Wednesday this all happened, which supposedly is the bad one. Full of woe etc. Add to that, coming out still inside the fetus ziplock. But. According to Mrs. Peggot there is one good piece of luck that comes with the baggie birth: it’s this promise from God that you’ll never drown. Specifically. You could still OD, or get pinned to the wheel and charbroiled in your driver’s seat, or for that matter blow your own brains out, but the one place where you will not suck your last breath is underwater. Thank you, Jesus.”
What a voice! I’m in awe of authors — like Kingsolver, Ruth Ozeki, Ann-Marie MacDonald — who express the voice of their fictional characters so well that it’s hard to believe those characters aren’t real people.
Here’s Demon talking about reading novels “Likewise the Charles Dickens one, seriously old guy, dead and a foreigner, but Christ Jesus did he get the picture on kids and orphans getting screwed over and nobody giving a rat’s ass. You’d think he was from around here.”
The story follows this wonderful character from his childhood to early adulthood, with highs and lows, love and hate, success and failure, kindness and cruelty (plus neglect).
Along with the wonderful characters, the great story (Dickens knew a thing or two about plot), and the brilliant use of language, I also appreciated learning along the way. I learned about Melungeons, the origins of the term “redneck” (it’s badass, by the way), the whisky rebellion, Purdue Pharma, mining companies, dopesickness… But never does anything feel like a lecture. Kingsolver is too good a novelist for that.
I hope you’ll read this wonderful and important novel.