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Zorrie by Laird Hunt




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About Zorrie:

“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.



Praise For Zorrie:

“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.”
– Hernan Diaz, author of IN THE DISTANCE, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist

“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.”
– Mona Awad, author of BUNNY

“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.”
– Marisa Silver, bestselling author of MARY COIN and LITTLE NOTHING

“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.”
– Roddy Doyle, author of LOVE and A STAR CALLED HENRY

“Laird Hunt’s Zorrie is compelling from its first page, the prosody like a “bolt of crinoline and serge and silk.” Zorrie is “no giant,” but her life is as full and satisfying as the short novel, fecund with grain and clover, sweetgrass and damp earth, love, loss, and radiant Luna dust. I read it, with great pleasure, in one sitting.”
– Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of HEADS OF THE COLORED PEOPLE

“Quietly effective. [Hunt’s] often lyrical prose traces Zorrie’s hopes, griefs, loneliness, and resolve with remarkable economy…A touching, tightly woven story from an always impressive author.”
– Kirkus, Starred Review

“Zorrie lives and breathes, as a character and as a book. In its natural movement, its joys embraced and sorrows faced, it is a moving portrait of one woman’s life — and so, by extension, a portrait of all of our lives. Laird Hunt has such a gift for clear and precise language, for conjuring the details that matter; the rhythms of mid-century mid-America are brought into being with subtle power. Eerily lit, at times, by a radium glow, this is a luminous book.”
– Erica Wagner, author of CHIEF ENGINEER

“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.”
– Publishers Weekly

“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.”
– Booklist





There is a simple heart with the main character Zorrie Underwood.
She is one you would love to be her neighbor, right now in the farm, in the fields and gaze at the beauty surrounding, to grasp it and say yes we doing what we can, using our sweat, labor and good heartedness, a minimalistic life.
Simplistic lives and hearts maybe almost like the title A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert, of which the author mentioned in acknowledgments section, that he held close.
Feelings of nostalgia stirred in the reader.
A memorable character Zorrie starring in a pleasant heart warming tale immersing you with lucid and lush prose along with hearts at battle with love, loss and grief, life’s transient and weighty matters. Laird Hunt a very capable conductor of realism as well as surrealism.
If In the House in the Dark of the Woods being his surreal creation with horror then this being his wonderful realism creation with Zorrie.



“Still, 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. Janie had tried to convince her that the Illinois dirt was the same as the Indiana dirt and that the Illinois skies were the same as the Indiana skies, but she had failed.”

“Later it seemed like a mist had fallen in front of her eyes, and when it cleared, whole herds of years had again gone galloping by. This troubled her more than it had in the past, this coming wide awake to the evidence of time’s ruthless determination: this figure thrown back to her from the mirror, with its splotches and thick ankles and twisted fingers and thin gray hair. For the first time she registered that she had started to move gingerly, was creeping almost, that her balance had gone somewhat haywire, that she sometimes even dreaded the morning and the tasks that lay ahead.”

“The evenings were all mystery. They would carry their plates out onto the screened-in front porch and eat looking out over the dusk-lit yard to the woods and fields. Fireflies drew their greenish-yellow traces through the air, cicadas screamed, and when the sky was clear, Venus showed bright through the darkening blue. Every now and again a jay that hadn’t settled would swoop by, and Zorrie would imagine that it was inscribing the improbable arc of her days into the cooling air, that instead of just flying across the yard, it had flown all the way over from the Illinois beech wood in which she had once wept…..

“Zorrie slept in sweet, shallow bursts. Some nights, when she woke or couldn’t sleep, the walls fell away and the coming day unfurled before her. Lying there listening to the crickets, she could feel the corn against her waist and wrists, the tangled beans against her ankles. The wet dirt sucked at her shoes. The sun hit hard against the back of her head.”

“The crisply chiseled tale of time told by the clocks and watches she had once helped paint faces for came to seem complicit in the agonized unfolding of her grief, so that soon the farm and the surrounding fields and the endless ark of change that enclosed them were the only timepiece whose hour strokes she could abide. Small but sure of purpose within the great mechanism of the seasons, she became a pin on a barrel of wind, a screw in a dial of sunlight, a tooth on an escape wheel of rain. The crops went in, the crops were cared for, the crops came out. The earth rested in its right season, and she with it.”

“The body was a beautiful mechanism, and part of that beauty lay in its precariousness, it’s finitude. Ellie thought mortality was a good thing, as it kept the earth and its wheel of wonders in true. She said that she knew it was easy to talk about but quite another to make the acquaintance of its symptoms, and she understood that it was probably hard, especially for someone who had always been so active, someone who had, “in her golden years, thrown open the doors of her world, taken to the skies and let the poetry come through.”


About Laird Hunt:

Laird Hunt is the author of eight novels, a collection of stories, and two book-length translations from the French. He has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and won the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine, and Italy’s Bridge prize. His reviews and essays have been published in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. He teaches in the Literary Arts program at Brown University and lives in Providence.