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ZORRIE by Laird Hunt Kirkus Star


by Laird Hunt

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-63557-536-1
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A woman’s life in rural Indiana takes shape amid dreams, losses, and fulfillment in this quietly effective work.

As in his past three novels, including In the House in the Dark of the Woods (2018), Hunt centers his narrative on a woman. But where those earlier characters faced war, racism, or sorcery, Zorrie Underwood’s ordeals may seem less extraordinary. Born early in the 20th century, she is a schoolgirl when she loses her parents to diphtheria. An aunt then raises her and dies when Zorrie is 21. She takes a job painting radium on clocks and gauges, and that lethal chemical sows an early seed of tension. She marries Harold, a good farming man with a hundred acres, but another fellow, the brooding Noah, also catches her eye. She miscarries in her only pregnancy, and then her husband’s bomber falls into the sea off Holland in 1943. For years thereafter, Zorrie works her farm and occasionally ponders the troubled Noah, whose story adds an almost gothic sidebar. The novel recalls the small but rich agrarian worlds of Meghan Kenny’s The Driest Season (2018) and Mariek Lucas Rijneveld’s The Discomfort of Evening (2020). But while those books depict brief periods of their characters' youth, 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. Thoughts of Harold find Zorrie musing on “the crisply chiseled tale of time told by the clocks and watches she had once helped paint faces for,” and so on for more than 100 words of rhetorical flight.

A touching, tightly woven story from an always impressive author.