Book Review for “Zorrie” by Laird Hunt.
Summary: “As a girl, Zorrie Underwood’s modest and hardscrabble home county was the only constant in her young life. After losing both her parents, Zorrie moved in with her aunt, whose own death orphaned Zorrie all over again, casting her off into the perilous realities and sublime landscapes of rural, Depression-era Indiana. Drifting west, Zorrie survived on odd jobs, sleeping in barns and under the stars, before finding a position at a radium processing plant. At the end of each day, the girls at her factory glowed from the radioactive material. But when Indiana calls Zorrie home, she finally finds the love and community that have eluded her in and around the small town of Hillisburg. And yet, even as she tries to build a new life, Zorrie discovers that her trials have only begun.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, USA – Indiana – rural and small urban locations; Other Categories: Novella, Saga.
I don’t remember which blogger wrote a glowing review of this book, which convinced me to pre-order this book as soon as it was out in paperback, but boy, am I glad they did. In fact, when it finally came out, I’d almost forgotten that I’d ordered it. Now, admittedly, reading this has been a touch slow going for me, because of the lingering after-effects from my bout with Covid-19, so the fact that this is a novella (only 160 pages) helped. Despite that, I still found myself wrapped up in Zorrie, and Hunt’s poetic writing style, which is highly evocative, without being flowery or saccharine. This can be both a positive and a negative, but I think that for the most part, it worked well with the story being told.
To be more precise, while I could see the people and things vividly in my mind’s eye, there were also times that these images overshadowed the narrative, and I felt somewhat distanced from Zorrie. Does that make sense? I hope so. You see, this novella is a type of personal saga, where we follow Zorrie’s life from a very early age, and watch as she struggles with what life sends her – not all of which is good, obviously. Furthermore, some things Zorrie does are pretty disturbing. For example, seeing what Zorrie does with the powder she got from that factory; especially knowing what we do today about that glow-in-the-dark paint, and what happened to the women who used that paint on the faces of clocks and watches.
Now, not every male author can write women properly, and while I think Hunt did a pretty good job here, there were some things that I think he didn’t get exactly right. For example, how Hunt has Zorrie act after she miscarries. Hunt seems to portray this as something Zorrie could easily put behind her, and only very rarely recall. However, I (sadly) know from experience that no woman who wanted a child and miscarries ever fully forgets that baby. Furthermore, Hunt seems to gloss over how Zorrie couldn’t get pregnant again, and then leaves the whole thing with practically no impact on Zorrie’s life. No, sorry… that’s just not how a childless woman would ever act, especially one who really wanted to be a mother. That wasn’t the only thing that didn’t sit right with me, but again, he’s a man, and there are some things about women than no man (or very few men) can ever really understand, and even fewer can portray women properly in main a protagonist. Hunt came close, I’ll give you that, though.
With that out of the way, the burning question is, what did I think of this novel overall? Well, it really is beautifully written, and despite some missteps, Hunt drew Zorrie into a very sympathetic character. As for the plot, this is one of those books that is more of a chain of events than one specific story arc, which is fine with me. That just means it was character driven more than plot driven, which I personally enjoy a great deal. Still, while I could identify with some (but not all) of the things Zorrie went through in this novel, I felt that Hunt distanced her from us most of the time – as if he was holding her at arm’s length from his readers. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that’s how it felt to me. It certainly is a pretty good depiction of a woman living through the depression era in rural Indiana, which is exactly as it was advertised. However, it didn’t make me cry and there was little to nothing here that made me laugh either. So, while I will recommend it – especially to people who like a fairly short, but really well written book – I don’t think that for me it rates higher than four out of five stars, which is still a very good rating.
Bloomsbury Publishing released “Zorrie” by Laird Hunt on February 7, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. .