**A SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER** A masterful recasting of David Copperfield, narrated by an Appalachian boy whose wise, unwavering voice relates his encounters with poverty, addiction, institutional failures and moral collapse-and his efforts to conquer them. - the Pulitzer WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION TWICE WINNER OF THE WOMEN'S PRIZE SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION SHORTLISTED FOR THE JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE FOR FICTION THE MULTI-MILLION COPY SELLING AUTHOR BOOK AT BEDTIME ON BBC RADIO 4 AN OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB PICK WITH OVER 29,000 5* REVIEWS 'Extraordinary.' OPRAH 'She means to save us by telling us stories. . . She comes closer than anyone else I know.' ANN PATCHETT 'Electrifying. . . Every sentence here sizzles.' Daily Mail 'It's EPIC. Righteously angry, DEEPLY moving and exquisitely written.' MARIAN KEYES ____________ Demon Copperhead is a once-in-a-generation novel that breaks and mends your heart in the way only the best fiction can. Demon's story begins with his traumatic birth to a single mother in a single-wide trailer, looking 'like a little blue prizefighter.' For the life ahead of him he would need all of that fighting spirit, along with buckets of charm, a quick wit, and some unexpected talents, legal and otherwise. In the southern Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, poverty isn't an idea, it's as natural as the grass grows. For a generation growing up in this world, at the heart of the modern opioid crisis, addiction isn't an abstraction, it's neighbours, parents, and friends. 'Family' could mean love, or reluctant foster care. For Demon, born on the wrong side of luck, the affection and safety he craves is as remote as the ocean he dreams of seeing one day. The wonder is in how far he's willing to travel to try and get there. Suffused with truth, anger and compassion, Demon Copperhead is an epic tale of love, loss and everything in between. 'Legit about to get an 'I'd rather be reading Demon Copperhead' sticker for my Nissan Murano.' ROB DELANEY ____________ What readers are saying: ***** 'An amazing, beautifully written story I cannot wait to recommend to everyone I know.' ***** 'Powerful and brilliant. To immerse yourself in a Kingsolver novel is to put yourself in the hands of a master.' ***** 'A must read and heart-opening book.' ***** 'Raw, angry, starkly beautiful. . . Genuinely one of the best books I've ever read.' ***** 'Amazingly complex. . . [Kingsolver] is, by far, one of the greatest living authors'
Release date: October 18, 2022
Print pages: 560
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My thinking here is to put everything in the order of how it happened, give or take certain intervals of a young man skunked out of his skull box, some dots duly connected. But damn. A kid is a terrible thing to be, in charge of nothing. If you get past that and grown, it’s easiest to forget about the misery and pretend you knew all along what you were doing. Assuming you’ve ended up someplace you’re proud to be. And if not, easier to forget the whole thing, period. So this is going to be option three, not proud, not forgetting. Not easy.
I remember I always liked looking at things more than talking about them. I did have questions. My problem was people. Thinking kids are not enough full-fledge humans to give them straight answers. For instance. The Peggots next door in their yard had a birdhouse on a pole that was a big mess of dangling gourds, with holes drilled for the bird doors. It was the bird version of these trailer pileups you’ll see, where some couple got a family going and nobody, not kids nor grandkids, ever moved out. They’re just going to keep shacking up and hauling in another mobile home to set on blocks, keeping it one big family with their junkass porches and raggedy flag over the original unit. One Nation Under Employed. The Peggot birdhouse was that, a bird-trailer clusterfuck. But no birds lived in it, ever. There were bird nests galore in the trees behind the house, or they’d build one in some random place like under the hood of Mr. Peggot’s truck. Why not move into a house already built, free of charge? Mr. Peggot said birds were like anybody, they like living their own way. He said he’d known government housing that didn’t cost much more than a birdhouse to move into, just as unpopular.
Fine, but why keep the thing up there, growing mold? Maggot told me Humvee had made it in Shop. Humvee being one of Maggot’s uncles, last seen near a schoolhouse around the time of the Bee Gees or Elvis. By now it’s the nineties. The Peggots kept this reject birdhouse up its pole all those years for what, to remember their son Humvee by? I didn’t buy it. The Peggots had seven kids altogether, living as far away as Ocala Florida or as close as a mile away. Cousins without number roamed through that house like packs of half-broke animals with meal privileges. Every family member got talked to or talked about on a daily basis, except two: (1) Maggot’s mom, (2) Humvee. One doing time in Goochland, one dead, for undiscussed reasons.
Besides the birdless birdhouse, they had a dog pen with no dog. Mr. Peggot used to run hounds before he got too tired for it like all the old men we knew, back whenever they still had the lungs for it, and dogs had foxes or bears to chase up a tree. In fall time he’d take us to the woods to hunt ginseng or dig sassafras because those can’t outrun you. But mainly just to be out there. He knew bird tunes the way people know who’s on the radio. After we got old enough to handle a rifle, nine or ten, he showed us how to take a buck, and how to heft up the carcass on the tree branch over the driveway to dress it out, letting loops of guts fall out steaming on the gravel. Mrs. Peggot cooked venison roast in the crockpot. You’ve not eaten till you’ve had that.
The empty dog pen stood between our trailer and the Peggot house. Maggot and I would put a tarp over it and sleep out there, usually if falling trees someplace took out the lines and we couldn’t watch TV. One summer we did that for maybe a month, after a Nintendo Duck Hunt challenge where I accidentally let fly the controller gun and busted the screen. Maggot took credit for that deed so I wouldn’t get sent home and skinned alive. Mrs. Peggot pretended to take his word for it, even though she heard the whole thing. Probably everybody has had some golden patch of life like that, where everything was going to be okay thanks to the people that had your back, and sadly you wasted it, by being ticked off over some ignorant thing like a busted TV.
The Peggot house sat up at the top of the road with woods all around. They had chickens at one time, including this rooster with the mind of a serial killer that gave me bad dreams. But not farmers proper. Likewise not the churchiest of people, but they were the ones that took me. Mom despised church, due to some of her fosters getting carried away with it, but I myself didn’t mind. I liked looking at the singing women, and the rest you could sleep through. Plus that thing of being loved automatically, Jesus on your side. Not a faucet turned on or off, like with people. But some of the Bible stories I minded, definitely. The Lazarus deal got me mentally disturbed, thinking my dad could come back, and I needed to go find him. Mrs. Peggot told Mom I ought to go see Dad’s grave in Tennessee, and they had a pretty huge fight. Maggot calmed me down by explaining Bible stories were a category of superhero comic. Not to be confused with real life.
As a kid you just accept different worlds with different rules, even between some houses and others. The Peggot home being a place where things got put where they went. Mr. Peggot would come home with the groceries and right away, in they’d go to the refrigerator. Maggot and I would get done having our World War III in the living room, and those Legos and crap got picked up before we went outside, or else hell would be paid. Not so at my house, where milk seemed like it had its own life to live and would sit out on the counter till it turned. Mom always said she’d lose her mind if it wasn’t screwed in, and she wasn’t wrong. Her work ID badge on the back of the toilet, makeup by the kitchen sink, purse outside under a chair. Shoes wherever.That was just Mom. In my room I tried to keep stuff put away, mainly my action figures and the notebooks I kept for my drawings. I asked Mom one time how to fix the bed so it was covered up like you see them on TV, which she thought was dead hilarious.
We kids roamed wide, sometimes as far as the old coal camps with the little row houses like Monopoly, except not all alike anymore due to idle mischief and the various ways a roof can cave in. We’d play king of the hill on the tipple cones and come home with white eyelids in coal-black faces like old miners we’d seen in photo albums. Or we’d mess around in creeks. Not the unmentionable one of Devil’s Bathtub, which freaked Mom out, and anyway was over in Scott County. The best place by far was the little branch that ran right behind our houses, as a place for a boy to turn invisible. Water with its own ideas, moving around under all those rocks. And underneath the water, a kind of mud that made you feel rich—leaf smelling, thick, of a color that you wanted to eat. Peggot’s Branch, it was called, the Peggots being who had lived there longest. Their house was built by some previous Peggot before any other houses were up there, whenever it was one big farm where they plowed their tobacco with mules. So said Mr. Peggot. Mules being the only way you could farm on land that steep. On a tractor you’d roll it and kill yourself.
The trailer where Mom and I lived was technically a Peggot trailer, former home of Maggot’s aunt June before she moved to Knoxville. Mom rented it from the Peggots, which was probably why they kept an eye and helped her out, like Mom was the second-string sub that came in off the bench after their own A-team daughter left the game. Maggot said June was still their favorite, even after she got her nursing degree and moved away. Which is saying a lot. Most families would sooner forgive you for going to prison than for moving out of Lee County.
To be clear, me and Mom were no kin of theirs, so this was not one of those family trailer pileups. Those shabby type of places show up on reality TV a lot more than reality in general, I think for the same reason people like to see copperheads where there aren’t any copperheads. The Peggots just had their house and the one extra single-wide. Nine or ten other families had their places up and down our road that were kept up very decent, and again, no relation.
But the Peggots were a thundering horde, no question. I was jealous of Maggot for the wealth of cousins he totally took for granted. Even the hot older girl cousins that were all “Oooh, Matty, I’d kill you for your eyelashes! No fair God wasted a face that pretty on a boy!” Then squealing because Maggot’s trying to give them arm burns, these buff cheerleader babes that honestly could kick his puny ass any day. There’s no way they were scared. It was just this routine they had, the girls saying their girl shit to Maggot, and him acting like he hates it.
And I’d be like, Really man? Yes, I get that pretty is one of those words a guy has to treat like it’s the clap and he’s got his balls to protect. The whole manhood situation with Maggot being complicated, to put it mildly. But this would happen with nobody around to judge him, just the cousins.And me, the cousinless jerk that would have paid money for some girl making that kind of fuss over me, and lying halfway on top of me in a dogpile once they’ve all settled down on the living room floor to watch Walker, Texas Ranger. Me, the jerk sitting by himself on the couch looking at my friend down there in that pile, thinking: Dude. Who hates being adored?
I’ve been saying Mrs. Peggot this and that, so I’ll go on writing it that way because the truth is embarrassing. I called her Mammaw. Maggot called her that, so I did too. I knew his cousins were not my cousins, nor was Mr. Peggot my grandpa, I called him Peg like everybody did. But I thought all kids got a mammaw, along with a caseworker and free school lunch and the canned beanie-weenies they gave you in a bag to take home for weekends. Like, assigned. Where else was I going to get one? No prospects incoming from Mom, foster-care orphan dropout. And the mother of Ghost Dad, already discussed. So I got to share with Maggot. This seemed fine with Mrs. Peggot. Other than my official sleeping place being at Mom’s, and Maggot having his own room upstairs in the Peggot house, she played no favorites: same Hostess cakes, same cowboy shirts she made for us both with the fringe on the sleeves. Same little smack on the shoulder with her knuckles if you cussed or wore your ball cap to her table. Not to say she ever hit hard. But Christ Jesus, the tongue-thrashings. To look at her, this small granny-type individual with her short gray hair and mom jeans and flat yellow sandals, you’re going to think: Nothing at all here to stand in my way. The little do you know. If you’re going to steal or trash-talk your betters or break her tomato plants or get caught huffing her hair spray out of a paper bag, the lady could scold the hair off your head.
She was the only one to use my real name after everybody else let it go, Mom included. I didn’t realize until pretty late in life, like my twenties, that in other places people stick with the names they start out with. Who knew? I mean, Snoop Dogg, Nas, Scarface, these are not Mom-assigned names. I just assumed every place was like us, up home in Lee County, where most guys get something else on them that sticks. Shorty or Grub or Checkout. It’s a good guess Humvee was not Humvee to begin with. Mr. Peggot was Peg after he got his foot crushed by one of those bolting machines they use in the coal mines. Some name finds you, and you come running to it like a dog until the day you die and it goes in the paper along with your official name that everybody’s forgotten. I have looked at the obits page and thought about how most of these names are harsh. Who wants to die an old Stubby? But in life it’s no big deal, you can buy a beer for your best friend Maggot without either one of you giving it a thought.
So it was not usual for Mrs. Peggot to keep my born name in the mix after others had moved on from it. It’s Damon. Last name of Fields, same as Mom’s. At the time of filling in the hospital forms after my action-packed birth, she evidently had her reasons for not tagging me to my dad. From what I know now, there’s no question, but looking like him was something I had to grow into, along with getting hair. And in those days, with her looks still being the main item in Mom’s plus column and the words “bad choice” yet to join her vocab, maybe there were other candidates. None on hand to gentleman up and sign over his name. Or drive her home from the hospital. That job, like most gentleman-up stuff in Mom’s life, fell to Mr. Peg. Was he happy about it or not, another story.
As far as the Damon part, leave it to her to pop out a candy-ass boy-band singer name like that. Did she think she’d even get me off her tits before people turned that into Demon? Long before school age, I’d heard it all. Screamin’ Demon, Demon Semen. But once I got my copper-wire hair and some version of attitude, I started hearing “LittleCopperhead.” Hearing it a lot. And look, no red-blooded boy wants to be Little Anything. Advice to anybody with the plan of naming your kid Junior: going through life as mini-you will be as thrilling as finding dried-up jizz on the carpet.
But having a famous Ghost Dad puts a different light on it, and I can’t say I hated being noticed in that way. Around the same time Maggot started his shoplifting experiments, I was starting to get known as Demon Copperhead. You can’t deny, it’s got a power to it.
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