I know generative AI is all like ‘I can write a thing in the style of so-and-so’ but with due respect to the robots, you cannot write like THIS. Jesus but Barbara Kingslover Hit It Out Of The Park with Demon Copperfield.
I’d heard it was good – well reviewed and on all the lists from last year, plus some personal recommendations – but felt held back by having not read David Copperfield. Some told me you didn’t have to have read David to appreciate Demon, but I thought I’d better check out the original just in case. And well. Guys. Did you know Dickens was a pretty good writer? Like I know you ‘know’ but maybe you’re like me and you haven’t actually read anything by him (or if you did it was a 100 years ago and a blur of high school English) and so you don’t really know. I mean don’t go out and drop what you’re doing, but I’m here to report: Charles Dickens was no slouch. But then, I cheated. I listened to it on audiobook (double speed and it still took 40 hours) and so maybe I’m a fan because of the British accent reading it to me and the aid of different voices. But probably it’s just a good one.
Anyway. So David Copperfield if you missed it: not an orphan from the outset, but an orphan, spends some time hungry, doing child labour, exploited, left for lost by institutions that should have – could have – protected him. Demon Copperfield? Same plot a few centuries later and this time it’s opioids and underfunded schools and exploitative companies and willful neglect that take center stage for judgement. [As an aside, if you don’t to read David Copperfield, then please, please, read Empire of Pain before you read this one – as it contextualizes (and layers the outrage) in incredibly helpful ways.]
Even while both books brilliantly attack institutions for the unmitigated failure (and not just passive failure, but active harm) of the young and the poor, they simultaneously argue for the profound – life changing – impact of individuals on one another. What harm, what hope might be possible in how we show up (or don’t) for one another.
So sure, all the institutions you can think of are (probably) failing, but they’ve been failing for centuries! Optimistic spin! AND as it always was and is also now true – we aren’t helpless in the face of it. While Demon and David both narrate exceptions – characters who are themselves exceptional and find themselves surrounded by others who – despite the structural failures that crumble – are kind. Kindness and caring are very small in the face of it all, and what we really need is revolution. And still. This reader clings to that tiny thing. Being kind, showing up, despite it all, holding hope.