Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Zorrie by Laird Hunt observes a woman's 20th-century life in the rural Midwest

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.

Zorrie was published by Bloomsbury this month, and I'd reviewed it from an Edelweiss e-copy for the Nov. 1st issue of Booklist.  I was impressed by how well Hunt encapsulated a full life within a novella of fewer than 200 pages.  Living in the rural Midwest myself (Illinois rather than Indiana), I recognized the landscapes of the story.  You can find more background on the Radium Dial Company and the young female dial-painters employed there in Kate Moore's bestselling The Radium Girls.


  1. Until reading this review, and then looking up Laird Hunt, I had not heard of this author. Zorrie sounds transcendent. And I am equally fascinated by Indiana, Indiana.

  2. I haven't read Indiana, Indiana myself, but was looking over descriptions of his backlist and saw a familiar character name there. Zorrie covers some of the same ground, plot-wise, but from a different viewpoint. If the content on his Wikipedia page is accurate, he has a fascinating background.

    Of his work, I've read Zorrie and Neverhome. Both very good, but I prefer Zorrie.