Summary and book reviews of Zorrie by Laird Hunt

Zorrie

by Laird Hunt

Zorrie by Laird Hunt X
Zorrie by Laird Hunt
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Feb 2021, 176 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Nichole Brazelton
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About this Book

Book Summary

"It was Indiana, it was the dirt she had bloomed up out of, it was who she was, what she felt, how she thought, what she knew."

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.

Spanning an entire lifetime, a life convulsed and transformed by the events of the 20th century, Laird Hunt's extraordinary novel offers a profound and intimate portrait of the dreams that propel one tenacious woman onward and the losses that she cannot outrun. Set against a harsh, gorgeous, quintessentially American landscape, this is a deeply empathetic and poetic novel that belongs on a shelf with the classics of Willa Cather, Marilynne Robinson, and Elizabeth Strout.

Excerpt
Zorrie

Zorrie Underwood had been known throughout the county as a hard worker for more than fifty years, so it troubled her when finally the hoe started slipping from her hands, the paring knife from her fingers, the breath in shallow bursts from her lungs, and, smack dab in the middle of the day, she had to lie down. At first she carried out this previously unthinkable obligation on the worn leather of the daybed in the front room, with her jaw set, hands pressed tight against her sides, staring up at the end of a long crack that ran the length of the ceiling, or at the flecks of blue light thrown onto the legs of the dining room table by the stained-glass jay that hung in the south window. When after several minutes of this she felt her breath slowing and the blood flowing back out through her veins, she would ease herself up, shake her head, and resume whatever activity had been interrupted. Once, though, after she had slipped in the garden and landed in a tangle of rhubarb,...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Throughout the novel, fire is an important symbol. The epigraph of Chapter V reads: "Our hands touch, our bodies burst into fire" (113) and Zorrie remembers a line from a poem Noah shared with her: "My heart is the same as an upside-downflame" (157). Consider the important moments when fire plays a significant role in the lives of Zorrie, Noah, and Opal: the burning of the barn, Opal's hospitalization, Harold's death. In your opinion, what does fire symbolize to these characters? How does fire, literally and figuratively bring these characters closer together or further apart?
  2. Discuss the symbolic significance of Luna powder. Zorrie and her friends celebrate the magical substance, not knowing its harmful effects; they eat it by the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Readers will be able to relate to Zorrie's struggles, and will feel a sense of familiarity with situations of hardship, grief and perseverance through the unknown. Most importantly, those struggles occur against a backdrop of perpetual hope and the will of a woman who never allows life to take away her kindness, compassion, grace and determined spirit. Hunt's language is simple, at times almost too sparse, yet elegant and filled with intensity. The speed with which he introduces and ends intersecting storylines can be a bit much, and Zorrie might have been well served with an additional 75 pages. Still, this quiet, unassuming story will quickly take hold of you and not let go...continued

Full Review Members Only (645 words).

(Reviewed by Nichole Brazelton).

Media Reviews

BookPage
A powerful portrait of longing and community in the American Midwest…Hunt chronicles the events of Zorrie's life with swiftness and precision, [and] a quiet sensitivity rarely seen in American fiction…Zorrie is a poetic reminder of the importance of being a happy presence in other people's memories.

New York Times
A virtuosic portrait of midcentury America itself-physically stalwart, unerringly generous, hopeful that tragedy can be mitigated through faith in land and neighbor alike…This is not fiction as literary uproar. This is a refined realism of the sort Flaubert himself championed, storytelling that accrues detail by lean detail…Hunt's prose is galvanized by powerful questions. Who were those forebears who tilled the land for decades, seemingly without complaint? How did they fashion happiness, or manage soaring passions, in their conformist communities? He re-examines the pastoral with ardent precision…What Hunt ultimately gives us is a pure and shining book, an America where community becomes a 'symphony of souls,' a sustenance greater than romance or material wealth for those wise enough to join in.

Booklist
Hunt celebrates the majesty and depth in a life that may superficially seem undistinguished…With compassion and realism, Hunt recounts Zorrie's story straightforwardly, with setting-appropriate dialogue and an eye for sensory details…A beautifully written ode to the rural Midwest.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Hunt manages in less than 200 pages to convey his heroine's whole life, telescoping years and rarely departing from seasonal and small-town rhythms. His often lyrical prose traces Zorrie's hopes, griefs, loneliness, and resolve with remarkable economy, although there are occasionally patches that sound forced...A touching, tightly woven story from an always impressive author.

Publishers Weekly
Hunt's storytelling flows smoothly, its rhythms unperturbed by preciousness or superfluous detail. Fans of Kent Haruf's Plainsong trilogy will love this subtle tale of rural life.

Library Journal (starred review)
Through an ordinary life of hard work and simple pleasures, Zorrie comes to learn the real wonder is life itself. A quiet, beautifully done, and memorable novel.

Author Blurb Hernan Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of In the Distance
This is not a just book you are holding in your hands; it is a life. Laird Hunt gives us here the portrait of a woman painted with the finest brush imaginable, while also rendering great historical shifts with bold single strokes. A poignant, unforgettable novel, Zorrie is Hunt at his best.

Author Blurb Mona Awad, author of Bunny
A sweeping, lyrical and profound portrait of a remarkable woman moving through the perils and wonders of 20th century American life. Zorrie will break your heart with its propulsive beauty, depth and grace.

Author Blurb Marisa Silver, bestselling author of Mary Coin and Little Nothing
With patience, precision and language so clear and generous, you feel as if you are being handed a precious and fragile truth, Laird Hunt brings us an indelible portrait of a twentieth century American woman. Zorrie travels through her years with a straightforward decency that nevertheless does not shield her from harm, heartbreak, yearning, and a hard-won recognition of joy. It takes Hunt only a hundred and fifty pages to take us from one end of Zorrie's life to the other, and yet I closed the book feeling that I had read an epic.

Author Blurb Roddy Doyle, author of Love and A Star Called Henry
Zorrie is a beautiful novel. It is gentle, yet full of surprises, and Zorrie, the protagonist who loves her farm and Elvis, is a wonderful creation.

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Beyond the Book

Ghost Girls (Radium Girls)

Radium girls working in a factory c. 1922 In Laird Hunt's book Zorrie, the title character takes a job painting watch dials with illuminating radium in Ottawa, Illinois. The women employed by the company think it's great fun to glow all night after their shifts, and even smuggle extra vials of glow-in-the-dark paint home to create designs on themselves.

During World War I, American factories that decorated watch and clock faces with radium opened in the Midwest and on the East Coast. All-female crews of workers were given the impression they were helping the war effort, and that the substance they were using was completely safe. The women holding these prized jobs (paying around three times more than a typical factory job) were often referred to as "ghost girls" for the ...

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