It happens sometimes. A title buzzes in your brain. Next a book shows up in all your curated consumer spaces and most are attached to highly circulated celebrity faces. It’s like when you pour something carbonated over ice, the glass fills, then the bubbles pop and fizz, and before you know it your glass is spilling over ending in an urgent mess. Maybe I’m being dramatic but this is what it feels like when I select buzzy title and author. I’m curious to join the conversation, commit precious reading time and end up feeling like I’ve suffered the antics of tricky marketing. This is what happened when I read both Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver and I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai.
This issue of Bookisshh examines 2 works written by award winning authors whose works are endorsed by bookish celebrities who place their clubby stickers on in effort to say something profound while building community and selling stuff to them.
This issue of Bookisshh runs counter to the buzz and messages to outlier readers to know that you have a club with no celebrity endorsement and all are welcome. It’s ok to NOT prefer the best seller list pundits. Enjoy and share what you read—in fact make your own stickers announcing this!
Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver
After reading several books both fiction and non-fiction about the opioid epidemic I found Demon Copperhead refreshing. Kingsolver dives into a unique perspective of a child, Damon aka Demon, who’s born into what population inappropriately regarded as “invisible” or “forgotten people” during the opioid epidemic’s evil rise and devastation of so many American people. The author also sets her story into motion prior to the epidemic’s capitalization by political candidates who used their story for campaign gain while still entertaining big pharma lobbyists and campaign donations. The country still suffers and the problem still lingers.
Appalachia maintains an important locus in US History—mining, logging, farming and industry began in Appalachia and broke the backs of its people as wealthier parts of the country raced toward modernization leaving people behind the times. Readers witness firsthand through Demon Copperhead’s point of view the stunted growth of infrastructure that communities require to thrive: healthcare, education, employment, environmental safety, government oversight, food deserts, and more leaving small communities to figure out resources for themselves or let Walmart take care of it… This was Demon’s life and readers stumble through these systems with him.
Demon Copperhead is born into a community with strong intergenerational relationships where people take up for one another as best as they can. Like many Demon attended a school that consume student athlete bodies for sport and rendering them academically deficient to manifest careers of varied collar colors. Post high school grad many are folded into local legend and farm store employees nursing injuries and watching the rest of the world get rich and further modernize. Drugs of sorts are widely abundant with the sole purpose of addicting unsuspecting people who were in pain, but could not function without pain medication due to chemical dependency fostered and nurtured by incentivized individuals and Purdue Pharma (yes calling you out still Sachlers). This was the trap that Demon fell into with no next of kin to protect him and carry him through the war zone of systemic breakdowns.
Readers travel though Demon’s development from young child to adult. Readers witness failed solutions to sustaining his parentless life and as a heroic protagonist, Demon takes charge himself and his own survival and has experiences and lessons no child should ever endure.
Kingsolver delivers to readers rich, witty dialogue and introspection (bordering unrealistic) that is engaging and immersive. It’s kind of scary the translation of drug experience but not titillating since children are taking the drugs which is horrifying. Readers, your heart will ache but not bleed. Your eyes might water but not cry. You might become angry and you might discover laughter. It is a well crafted work, BUT—ABOUT 100 PAGES TOO LONG GIVEN THE ATTENTION ECONOMY WE ARE ALL LIVING IN.
This was my first Kingsolver work. I’ll give the author another try. I appreciate the nod given to Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield and her approach to a contemporary spin. Kingsolver’ s homage to Dickens is important because she signals to readers that history is easily erased as it’s written and without historic memories lessons are not learned. Like Dickens Kingsolver points to how circumstances for the exploited poor have changed little when modernization and national wealth can attend to their pressing needs.
I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai
I did not love this book for reasons so many. I am not someone who cozies up with with TV shows or podcasts about murdered people let alone women. I wonder at the educational potential that investigative and procedural pieces encourage bad actors who might become the predators in these type of programs and while I agree to live democratically, I browse past these options. Except this time, I got caught up in the buzz remember…
The structure of this work is jumbled and filled with witnesses, voyeurs and other types of interlopers that gaining a perspective is challenging. Additionally, the unpredictable jumps to second person narrator further distorted the narrator’s credibility. Is the goal to invalidate the truth and perhaps redirect bored nosy people who obsess over true crime problem solving? Why write this very long book then?
Something interesting Makkai does is point to psychological transference that drives the voyeur inquiry, decisions and conclusions which reminds readers of confirmation bias on both micro and macro levels. Bodie, the main narrator shares and owns her own developmental life challenges that color and define who and why she is neurosis fixations and all. On a critical note, Bodie shared nothing with police or family members regarding her roommate’s murder back when she could. Later and during this story Bodie must remain neutral while driving her student’s inquiry and trial proceedings to bring forward her biased conclusions which is journalistically unethical. So why should a reader care about this narrator or be seduced by the unreliable narrator phenomena? If the sole purpose for this work was to show injustice and frustration with injustice, Makkai is halfway there. Sort of a bravo?
There were simply too many themes: whisper networks, true crime fan fiction, cult communities, imposter syndrome at selective schools, racism and incarceration, journalism, truth, ethics, naive minds, pedophilia, marital breakdown. Sheesh!
448 pages? Perhaps Makkai wanted to write something different when she endeavored the theme(s) contained in this work but had to turn away due to potential consequences issued by call out or cancel culture who gain notoriety by persecuting people with platforms, sales figures or some version racial ordinariness under scrutiny by one group or another. It’s hard to write a book these days that incorporate socio political topics in these highly charged political times. Still, I feel, Makkai took this book out of the oven too soon.
My greatest compliment goes to both the list and verse-like passages. Makkai creates immediacy and numbness when she montages crimes and victims to recall memory and neutralize feeling kind of like shock treatment for her readers. It was interesting in effect and sad in content though she shows how vulnerable women are to violent crime. Alternatively, Makkai’s prose their is kind of interesting though overstimulating if you take things in deeply and care about fellow humans. There were some beautiful meditations on nature, the forest and rejuvenation. In the end this book wasn’t about a return to nature it was a fever dream that recurs and bears no end—even at 448 pages.
A bee is never as busy as it seems; it’s just that it can’t buzz any slower – Kin Hubbard