Zorrie by Laird Hunt
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: February 9, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Historical, Literary
Towards the end of last year, the only reading that worked for me was fast paced thrillers. More plot, more action, less literary. This year is taking a turn (or a return) to the fiction that’s always drawn me in, the kind where the words matter more than anything else. Laird Hunt’s latest, Zorrie, epitomizes this style; the power of simplicity.
Zorrie is a young girl in Indiana when both her parents die. She goes to live with an aunt where she is provided for, but it’s a hard life with a bitter woman who punishes her for even using the word “hope”.
“Hope’ll lead you straight into the bushes. Look where hope led me.”
The aunt dies when Zorrie is 21, leaving her homeless. It’s the Depression and jobs are not easy to come by so she heads to Illinois hoping for more opportunity. She finds factory work; painting clock faces with radium powder to make them glow in the dark. The powder is considered magical, and because the girls must use their tongues to get the finest point on the brush their fingers and mouths gleam at night. The job is less important than the friends Zorrie makes. Suddenly, she is a normal young woman, for the first time in her life having ice cream and seeing movies.
Indiana continues to pull at her and after two months Zorrie heads back, befriends an older couple, helping them in their home. They introduce her to their son, Harold, who runs their farm. Zorrie and Harold marry. The years pass. They try for children but Zorrie miscarries repeatedly. World War II arrives and the much-loved routine and security of Zorrie’s life is upended.
Hunt carefully, steadily traces the rest of Zorrie’s life, with its hardship, friendship, and pain. He does so with a decorum befitting the times and the woman herself. The Midwestern get-it-done ethos gives the story an observational feel, but is no less moving than more effusive, wordy novels. Zorrie may have been dealt a rough hand when young, but there is no dwelling on tragedy, no long passages of introspection and conversations about deeply held fears and joys. Instead, through actions and stray moments of quiet, the novel unfurls with the simple beauty of a stray beam of sunshine on a winter day or the first bloom of spring. Zorrie is a respite, a transcendent capturing of time and place. Of one woman’s life.
…Someone who had, “in her golden years, thrown open the doors of her world, taken to the skies and let the poetry come through.”
If you’re ready for quieter reading I highly recommend anything by Kent Haruf (Plainsong, Benediction) or Miss Jane by Brad Watson.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.*