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Zorrie
Cover of Zorrie
Zorrie
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Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award (Fiction)
"A virtuosic portrait." –New York Times Book Review

"A tender, glowing novel." –Anthony Doerr, Guardian, "Best Books of the Year"

"Pages that are polished like jewels." –Scott Simon, NPR, "Books We Love"
"Lit from within." -Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times, "Best Fiction Books of the Year"

"A touching, tightly woven story from an always impressive author." -Kirkus (starred review), "Best Fiction of the Year"
"Radiates the heat of a beating heart." –Vox

"A poignant, unforgettable novel." –Hernan Diaz

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.
Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award (Fiction)
"A virtuosic portrait." –New York Times Book Review

"A tender, glowing novel." –Anthony Doerr, Guardian, "Best Books of the Year"

"Pages that are polished like jewels." –Scott Simon, NPR, "Books We Love"
"Lit from within." -Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times, "Best Fiction Books of the Year"

"A touching, tightly woven story from an always impressive author." -Kirkus (starred review), "Best Fiction of the Year"
"Radiates the heat of a beating heart." –Vox

"A poignant, unforgettable novel." –Hernan Diaz

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.
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Awards-
About the Author-
  • 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 Department of Literary Arts at Brown University and lives in Providence.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from October 15, 2020
    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.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 2, 2020
    Hunt (In the House in the Dark of the Woods) documents an unremarkable life in this compassionate outing. Though the elderly farmer Zorrie Underwood is in failing health and near the end of her life, she continues working the fields as she has for 50-plus years. Perseverance and an industrious acceptance of her lot are the hallmarks of orphaned Zorrie’s existence from birth, as shown by the time-jumping narrative. After the stern aunt who raised Zorrie dies in 1930, when Zorrie is 21, she takes whatever work she can find until she meets the loving elderly couple Gus and Bessie, for whom she splits and stacks wood. Her acquaintance with their upright son, Harold, who runs the family farm, evolves naturally into marriage. With Harold away during WWII, Zorrie bonds with their empathetic neighbor and farmhand, Noah, especially after Harold is killed in action, and it’s Harold’s memory that stays with her in the decades to follow. As the years progress, Gus and Bessie die, and Zorrie finds joy in a puppy, and forms a strong friendship with her neighbor Ruby. 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. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Feb.)Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated a plot point and referred to the character Ruby by the wrong name.

  • Booklist

    November 1, 2020
    Deliberately echoing the form of Gustave Flaubert's novella, "A Simple Heart," Hunt celebrates the majesty and depth in a life that may superficially seem undistinguished. Zorrie Underwood is a farmer in central Indiana, and as she and readers survey her 70-or-so years, her joys and sorrows are deeply observed and felt. Raised by a cranky aunt, Zorrie is left homeless at 21, in 1930, and travels though the countryside doing odd jobs for food. Following a stint painting clock faces at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois, she settles in her home state and marries a kindly couple's farmer son, enduring setbacks and grief while adhering to daily routines. With compassion and realism, Hunt recounts Zorrie's story straightforwardly, with setting-appropriate dialogue and an eye for sensory details: the glint of fireflies, the clay soil's rich scent, the "mineral-sweet taste of warm blackberries picked off the vines." Zorrie's relationship with her neighbor Noah Summers, the eccentric protagonist of Hunt's Indiana, Indiana (2003), is presented with expressive subtlety. A beautifully written ode to the rural Midwest.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2021

    Taking an epigraph from Flaubert's A Simple Heart, Hunt's (The Evening Road) novel also concerns a simple, decent character well acquainted with hardship and loss. Zorrie Underwood was orphaned young and spent much of her childhood living with an elderly and embittered aunt who was rarely warm toward her, the harshness of her youth salved only by school and especially Mr. Thomas, her teacher, who heightens her awareness of the natural world. Striking out after high school, she leaves her native Indiana, taking a job painting radium watch dials at a factory in Illinois, where she makes her first real friends among the "radium girls." Returning to Indiana, she comes to live with an older couple, Gus and Bessie Underwood, doing chores and eventually marrying Harold, their son. When Harold is killed in World War II, Zorrie takes over their farm, carving out a life for herself as the years pass by. VERDICT During an early scene, Zorrie and her friends toss flakes of radium paint into the air and stare with wonder at its seemingly miraculous glow. Through an ordinary life of hard work and simple pleasures, Zorrie comes to learn the real wonder is life itself. A quiet, beautifully done, and memorable novel.--Lawrence Rungren, Andover, MA

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New York Times Book Review A virtuosic portrait of midcentury America itself—physically stalwart, unerringly generous, hopeful that tragedy can be mitigated through faith in land and neighbor alike . . . This is a refined realism of the sort Flaubert himself championed, storytelling that accrues detail by lean detail . . . Hunt's prose is galvanized by powerful questions. Who were those forebears who tilled the land for decades, seemingly without complaint? How did they fashion happiness, or manage soaring passions, in their conformist communities? He re-examines the pastoral with ardent precision . . . What Hunt ultimately gives us is a pure and shining book, an America where community becomes a 'symphony of souls,' a sustenance greater than romance or material wealth for those wise enough to join in.
  • Anthony Doerr, Guardian, "Best Books of the Year" A tender, glowing novel . . . as beautiful as Marilynne Robinson's Gilead or Denis Johnson's Train Dreams.
  • Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times, "5 Best Fiction Books of the Year" The book feels irradiated itself . . . lit from within.
  • Scott Simon, NPR, "Books We Love" The National Book Award finalist of a novel packs a whole, absorbing human life into just 161 pages that are polished like jewels.
  • Tayla Burney, NPR, "Staff Picks" A beautiful rumination on finding meaning in our days.
  • O Magazine's Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Novels of 2021 Zorrie is a quiet novel about an ordinary life. And when you're ordinary, you need resilience like Zorrie's to survive in an uncaring world. Laird Hunt's short and affecting novel follows Zorrie Underwood's life from childhood in Depression-era Indiana, when she's orphaned, to early adulthood, when she's left on her own, to an eventual marriage and working life.
  • Library Journal, Starred Review Through an ordinary life of hard work and simple pleasures, Zorrie comes to learn the real wonder is life itself. A quiet, beautifully done, and memorable novel.
  • Kirkus, Starred Review, Best Fiction of the Year 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.
  • Bookreporter A slight but poignant chronicle of a woman alone-and the grief, historic events and transformations that make her whole...ZORRIE is a novel that feels like it lives and breathes, and Hunt's ability to interweave unimaginable beauty with poignant, deep longing makes it an instant American classic.
  • Publishers Weekly 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.
  • Shelf Awareness Hunt packs Zorrie's whole life in this slim book of fewer than 200 pages, but it doesn't feel short, nor does it feel too long. Zorrie's life may seem simple to some, but it's a rich well of experiences worth exploring. Through loss, grief and tragedy, Hunt's lyrical and intimate novel shows that life is not a sum of its negative experiences but a collection of joyful moments.
  • The Worcester Telegram Courageous and profound.
  • Hernan Diaz, author of IN THE DISTANCE, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist 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, unfo
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