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Book Nook: Zorrie by Laird Hunt

Laird Hunt has become a regular guest on the show. With his recent appearance to discuss his novel "Zorrie" it marked his fourth book in a row that we have featured on the program. What a lovely book. Here's my review which ran recently in the Cox Ohio newspapers:

As Laird Hunt's latest novel "Zorrie" opens his central character, Zorrie Underwood, is working on her farm in rural Indiana. Time is slowly catching up with her: "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."

She has finally slowed down enough after more than half a century of working so very hard to reflect, to look back upon her life. On the second page of the book we windmill back to Zorrie's childhood. Then we proceed across the entire span of her life as we travel through her memories, a journey that will eventually circle right back to where this story started.

Zorrie became an orphan at an early age when her parents succumbed to diphtheria. Then she moved in with an elderly aunt, a woman who rarely expressed much joy or affection. About the only person who encouraged her was a kindly teacher named Mr. Thomas. When Zorrie had just turned twenty-one her aunt died, leaving Zorrie with nothing.

It is never a good thing to suddenly become homeless and it was even worse for Zorrie because it was 1930, she had lost her home at the height of the Great Depression. Zorrie began wandering the countryside seeking work. She knocked on doors and offered to do whatever she could to try to earn a little money, some brief shelter, a few meals.

Her vagabond wanderings took her from Indiana to Illinois. In the town of Ottawa she encounters some young women who work at a factory that makes timepieces. The clocks have luminous dials and these women are the ones who paint the luminous markings on them. The paint is made with radium dust, that is what makes it glow.

Zorrie gets hired to work at the factory. Readers of today will instantly recognize the hazards of working with radioactive material. Zorrie's new friends show her some of the ways that they amuse themselves with the glowing paint. We begin to get a sense of dread. Zorrie doesn't work there for very long. When she leaves that job she takes along a container of the radium dust with her as a souvenir.

I'll leave it to readers to discover the rest of the Zorrie story. She hoists burdens with stoic resolve. Hunt writes: "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 Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.

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