My Thoughts on Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone
Author: Daniel Woodrell
Publisher/Price: Back Bay Books, $13.99
Genre: Literary Fiction
Where I got it: I bought it- used
There were three strikes against me when I started reading this book:
1. I have the lame movie tie-in edition, which I hate
2. My copy is pretty seriously water damaged.
3. I had already seen the movie when I went to read the book. I don't like to do that, because it really affects the reading experience for me in a negative way. As a result, I will avoid movies if I have any inclination to read the book.
Despite these three negatives, I thoroughly enjoyed -- well, maybe not enjoyed -- appreciated my read of Winter's Bone. The language in the book is stunning, with descriptions that brought to life a scene that is so foreign to me, it might as well have been set on the moon (and sometimes had an eerie quality like it was). For example, here are the opening lines:
Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. Meat hung from trees across the creek. The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards. Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.
Talk about descriptive; I mean the passage is spare, but alive and sensory. "Blossoming of decay"? Seriously? It's good. So still and rough. And beyond that Ree Dolly is an incredible character. You can tell this in the movie, but she is so much more complex in the book, rounded out with quirks and flaws.
So, maybe I should back up a minute and talk a little about what the book is about. Ree Dolly is almost seventeen, and she lives with her mentally ill mother and two younger brothers. Her father is a "crank cooker" who has recently gotten out of jail on bail. I'm not spoiling anything by saying that very early in the book Ree learns that he has posted bail by putting up their house and the piece of land that they own. As a result, Ree is sent down a path of trying to find her father that leads her into trouble, but solidifies her character.
Woodrell's writing has been noted for having noir-ish qualities and also for depicting an overlooked locale in the world of literature- the Ozarks. I'm teaching this book in my ENG 102 class next semester, which is a little scary, because of the books brutality, but I've taught brutal books before. I chose it because so few American authors confront issues of social class and Woodrell certainly does. This is a difficult book, but one that illuminates a part of a world, and shows, not only the differences between, but also the universality of some experiences- the experience of family, of loyalty, of hardship. I would definitely recommend it.