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Book Review :: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In her latest novel, Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver updates Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (thus the name of the titular character), moving the story to turn-of-the-millenium Appalachia. This approach tempts those readers who are familiar with Dickens’s novel to play a matching game with characters and events, but Kingsolver’s novel goes much further than a literary exercise that tests readers’ nineteenth-century novel knowledge. Her interest in updating Dickens’ novel is to explore the poverty rampant in Appalachia (as it was in Dickens’s London), a problem made significantly worse because of the opiod crisis. While Dickens’s David struggles through his own forms of exploitation, Kingsolver’s Demon, his friends, and his family are all victims in various ways to the addiction that pharmaceutical companies created in places and people who lacked the means to fight back. As with cases from real life, Demon comes by his addictions innocently, but then struggles with them for hundreds of pages, despite those around him who are trying to help. While Kingsolver shows a community decimated by drugs, she creates characters—as does Dickens—the reader cares about. She puts a face to the headlines many of us have the luxury of skimming over and reminds readers there are too many people whose lives seem destined for destruction, through no fault of their own.

Demon Copperhead by Barabara Kingsolver. Harper Collins Publishers, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Blonde a novel by Joyce Carol Oates published by Harper Collins book cover image

Guest Post by MG Noles

Editor’s Note: While we generally prefer new releases, we love to see contemporary takes on older titles and how readers relate to literature over time. Blonde was originally published in 2000, re-released in 2020, and will appear as a Netflix original film in fall 2022.

Marilyn Monroe’s life story is one that most film lovers assume they know well. However, in Blonde (2000), a fictional account of the legendary actress’s life, Joyce Carol Oates takes readers deep beneath the surface of Marilyn into the hidden crevices of her life and her mind. Oates’ words at times ring out like hammer blows. She writes, “Her problem wasn’t she was a dumb blonde, it was she wasn’t a blonde and she wasn’t dumb.”

Blonde leveled me. After reading it, I found myself dizzy with thoughts of the actress – her struggles, her loneliness, her tragic demise. Oates shows that those who encountered Marilyn saw her sadness firsthand and were touched by her. As described by a pharmacy clerk who waited on Ms. Monroe at Schwab’s Drugstore in Hollywood, “She seemed like the most alone person in the world.”

This book shows a hint of the infinite sadness that lies at the center of Ms. Monroe’s eyes. In films, viewers can see the wells of loneliness behind the technicolor. Reading it now in the #MeToo era makes us see the casting couch and all its cruelty for what it is: a maker of stars and a destroyer of lives.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. Harper Collins, 2000/2020.

Reviewer Bio: MG Noles is a hermit, reviewer, history buff, and nature lover.

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Book Review :: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s novel, How High We Go in the Dark, doesn’t have a plot per se, as it reads more like an interconnected collection of short stories than it does a novel. A character’s wife from one chapter will show up in a later chapter as a friend to the girlfriend of another character, a minor characters in one chapter becomes the focus of a later chapter or vice versa. What the characters do have in common is a tenuous existence, as Earth has become less and less habitable. Throughout much of the book, a pandemic is ravaging the world, killing people by mutating their organ cells, causing hearts to behave like livers or brains to change into lungs. Even after that tragedy becomes more controllable, there is still environmental disaster, as wildfires rage constantly, the Arctic is quickly melting, and sea levels rise by feet, not by inches. What Nagamatsu is most interested in exploring, however, is how people avoid one another, even in the midst of suffering, and how they might still be able to connect to one another. Though technology — perhaps even space travel — could save people’s lives, only true connection has a chance of healing their souls.

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu. William Morrow, 2022,

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press).  He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter at @kevinbrownwrite or http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Resurrecting a Genre by O’Neill and Meyer

The Way Forward by Robert O'Neill and Dakota Meyer book cover image

Guest Post by Shelby Kearns

The candor and vulnerability in The Way Forward: Master Life’s Toughest Battles and Create Your Lasting Legacy by Robert O’Neill and Dakota Meyer just might resurrect the military memoir/self-help genre.

This new book by O’Neill and Meyer certainly has its predictable moments, emulating American Sniper and other made-for-Hollywood books. Part one has life lessons from O’Neill’s upbringing in Butte, Montana, and Meyer’s in Columbia, Kentucky. Part two is stories of boot camp, combat, and their post-military careers. Their Hollywood-worthy stories include O’Neill firing the shot that killed Osama bin Laden and Meyer receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Ganjgal in 2009.

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