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Pulitzer-winner ‘Demon Copperhead’ explores poverty, addiction and the power of a good story

Barbara Kingsolver is the author of "Demon Copperhead"
Evan Kafka
Barbara Kingsolver is the author of "Demon Copperhead"

The Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded last week, and for the first time in the category’s 105-year history, two books shared the top prize — Hernan Diaz’s “Trust” and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Demon Copperhead.”

I’ve read both prize-winners (which may be a first in my history), and I whole-heartedly agree with the Pulitzer committee. Both novels explore issues of wealth, poverty and the American dream — “Trust” being set in 1920s New York and “Demon Copperhead” in southern Appalachia.

And while both are destined to become classics, Kingsolver’s work took me on an emotional journey that I just can’t stop thinking about. Her novel is a 560-page epic and a modern retelling of “David Copperfield,” but please don’t let that dissuade you from picking it up. Familiarity or even a passing knowledge of Dickens is not a prerequisite for this book.

Kingsolver recasts the Victorian novel to contemporary rural America, giving us a character who braves poverty, foster care, addiction, and countless other challenges. Demon’s voice is the star of this show, as he faces adversity with humanity and even humor. The sweeping story reminds me of two other epic novels I’ve loved — John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” and John Boyne’s “The Heart’s Invisible Furies.”

This book will break your heart and fill it up again, a phenomenal journey that deserves all the awards.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.