Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award (Fiction)From prize-winning, acclaimed author Laird Hunt, a poignant novel about a woman searching for her place in the world and finding it in the daily rhythms of life in rural Indiana. "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.
- ISBN-13: 9781635575361
- ISBN-10: 1635575362
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
- Publish Date: February 2021
- Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.7 pounds
- Page Count: 176
Laird Hunt has a reputation for sensitively chronicling women’s lives, as in Neverhome, his Civil War tale of an Indiana woman who becomes a Union soldier. He returns to the Indiana setting in his delicate new novel, Zorrie, a powerful portrait of longing and community in the American Midwest.
Zorrie Underwood is born in the early 20th century. After her parents die of diphtheria, she is raised by a stern aunt who tells her “people [are] born dreaming of devils and dark roses and should beware” and slaps Zorrie if she wakes up crying.
These experiences would cow a less hearty soul, but not Zorrie, who can beat almost every boy in school at arm-wrestling. When she is 21, her aunt dies and leaves her with nothing, so Zorrie sets out on her own. The most consequential of her early jobs is at the Radium Dial Company, where she decorates clock faces with paint containing a translucent powder that glows. Along with her colleagues, she is unaware of its toxic effects.
Soon she gets a job splitting and stacking wood for elderly couple Gus and Bessie. She marries their son, Harold, “the best-looking fellow Zorrie would ever see.” Hunt movingly documents their life on the farm, from picnics and watermelon seed-spitting contests to Zorrie’s continuation of her work during a pregnancy that ends in a miscarriage. Hunt chronicles the events of Zorrie’s life with swiftness and precision, including Harold’s death during World War II and, most enigmatically, Zorrie’s acquaintance with Noah Summers, whose wife is confined to a state hospital for setting their house on fire. Hunt tells their stories with a quiet sensitivity rarely seen in modern American fiction.
Late in the novel, when thinking of her neighbors and the world at large, Zorrie realizes “it was silence and not grief that connected them, that would keep them forever connected, the living and the dead.” Despite occasional dry passages, Zorrie is a poetic reminder of the importance of being a happy presence in other people’s memories.