Barbara Kingsolver takes a Dickensian journey through Appalachia for the new novel Demon Copperhead

Now here‘s Scott Tong speaks to the author Barbara Koenigsloser about her new bookDemon Copperhead‘, which takes Charles Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’ and plays him in what is now southern Appalachia.

Book excerpt: ‘Demon Copperhead’

By Barbara Kingsolver

I was born first. A decent crowd was there to watch and they always gave me so much: the worst part of the job was mine, my mother was, shall we say, out of the game.

The cover of Demon Copperhead. (decency)

Any other day they would have seen them outside on the deck of their trailer, good neighbors who would have taken notice and pestered the trouble as they pleased. All that dog-breath air of late summer and fall, glancing at the mountain, and there she would be, the little pale blonde, smoking her Pall Malls, hanging on that rail like she was, and could be, the captain of her ship up there be the hour when it sets. We’re talking about an eighteen-year-old girl, all alone and as pregnant as it gets. The day she didn’t show up it fell to Nance Peggot to bang on the door, burst in and find her passed out on the bathroom floor with her stuff strewn everywhere and I was already coming out. A slippery, fish-colored hostage, picking up sand off the vinyl tiles, worming and shoving around because I’m still in the sack babies float in, before real life.

Mr. Peggot was outside, coasting his truck, on his way to the evening service, and was probably thinking about how much of his life he’d spent waiting on women. His wife had told him that the Jesusing could last a minute, first she had to see if the little pregnant girl had gotten drunk again. Mrs. Peggot is a lady who doesn’t beat around the bush and if need be, will tell Christ Jesus to hold on tight and keep his pretty hair on. She came back and yelled at him to call 911 because a poor kid in the bathroom was trying to get out of a bag. Like a little blue prizefighter. Those are the words she would use later, when she wasn’t at all shy about talking about the worst day of my mother’s life. And if that’s how I came across the first people who saw me, I’ll take it. To me, that means I had a fighting chance. Long chances, yes I know. When a mother lays in her own piss and pill bottles while they hit the kid she dumped and tells him to look alive: the bastard’s probably doomed. The child born to the junkie is a junkie. It’ll become everything you don’t want to know, the rotten teeth and dead eyes, the annoyance of locking your tools in the garage so they don’t run away, the rent-by-week motel that’s a long way down the road of the scenic highway. This child, if he wanted to try the finer things, should have taken himself to a rich or clever or Christian non-performing mother. Everyone will tell you that the born of this world are marked from the start, whether they win or lose.

I, on the other hand, was a natural born sucker for saving superheroes. Did that kind of work even exist in our trailer home universe? Had they all left Smallville and been looking for bigger action? To save or to be saved, these are questions. You want to believe it’s not over until the last page.

From the book: “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver. Copyright © 2022 by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted with permission from Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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