IN THIS POST: A book review of Zorrie by Laird Hunt and why you want to add this to your stack of must-read books.
I am rarely so pleasantly surprised by a book as I was when reading Zorrie by Laird Hunt. Usually I’ve seen a title at a bookstore or on my Instagram feed and so I have some level of familiarity with its existence. In this case, I had neither framework to guide my interest.
How Zorrie Went from Unknown to Owned
At the 2022 National Book Festival I browsed a table of books recommended by each state and territory of the U.S. The book had two external features to draw me in: a cover in shades of green and a title that starts with “Z.” Those are good enough to get me to pick it up, but there had to be more in order to get me to buy it.
Sure enough. At the bottom of the cover’s inside flap was a suggestion that Zorrie belongs in a category with Willa Cather’s and Marilynne Robinson’s writing. I love Robinson’s work and at least one of Cather’s so this recommendation was significant.
(I’m not alone in this recommendation holding weight – when I mentioned it on my Instagram, several people commented that the reference to those two names made them inclined to read it.)
I left the table with my hands empty.
My thoughts turned over my choices.
I checked out the two non-fiction books that I originally thought I would want to purchase.
Instead, I came back to the table and picked up this unfamiliar book and an unknown-to-me memoir about life on a ranch in Wyoming.
I started reading Zorrie in between sessions. I finished reading it later that same day.
Book Review of Zorrie by Laird Hunt
I looked back at my older reviews and realized I only had two other fiction titles (The Night Watchman and The Mountains Sing). I do prefer non-fiction so it isn’t a surprise that those titles are more prevalent on the blog. All that to say, when a fiction title makes an impact such that I feel compelled to write up a full review, it was really good.
Zorrie lives with her harsh aunt after both her parents die when she is very young. While moments of grace and kindness emerge about this time, her overall experience was dull and sparse. Then, Zorrie is left alone after her aunt dies.
Now the story begins to develop as Zorrie steps into her own in order to survive. Eventually she finds consistent work that involves direct contact with radium. Dazzled by the glowing material, Zorrie and her friends use radium in the workspace and outside of it. This decision will impact all of their lives later.
Despite her friends and stable job Zorrie is drawn back to Indiana. She returns and finds the next phase of her life as she joins in community through marriage and life. She is a hard-worker, pragmatic, and kind. Still, she is tested as loss and death continue to mark her life.
In the tension between the kindness of her character and the despair of her life-events is the heart of the novel. She makes decisions that are hard but good. She values the people of her community.
It is, without a doubt, a novel of character development. It covers the entirety of Zorrie’s life and the ending is sweet without being sappy. Through her struggles with the ups and downs of life, readers see a hopeful way forward.
Read Zorrie If…
How do you know if this is a good book for you? Try answering a couple of these questions!
Start where I did: do you like the writing of Willa Cather or Marilynne Robinson? That seems to be a good starting point and connection for readers.
Do you have space for a character-driven story? Character-driven plots aren’t everyone’s favorite style, but Zorrie is a short novel. It is a good one to read whether you typically love or don’t the character-based stories because it is accessible.
Are you looking for a book that tells a good story but connects events and characters in such a way as to reveal deeper themes and ideas?
If this book review of Zorrie is not enough to convince you, then check out this review from the New York Times or this interview with author Laird Hunt on NPR.
Let me know what you think about Zorrie if you get a chance to read it. The National Book Award Finalist recognition is well-deserved.
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