Winter’s Bone is a novel that manages to be simultaneously gritty, sparse, and poetic. It’s beautiful and certainly one of my favorite books that I have read in 2012. The focus of the novel is sixteen year old Ree Dolly. Ree’s father, Jessup, is the best meth cooker is the Ozarks. Only he’s been caught – again. Once on bail, he flees. On Jessup:
“Walnuts were still falling when Ree saw him last. Walnuts were thumping to ground in the night like stalking footsteps of some large thing that never quite came into view, and Jessup had paced on this porch in a worried slouch, dented nose snuffling, lantern jaw smoked by beard, eyes uncertain and alarmed by each walnut thump. The darkness and those thumps out in the darkness seemed to keep him jumpy. He paced until a decision popped into his head, then started down the steps, going fast into the night before his mind could change. He said, ‘Start lookin’ for me soon as you see my face. ‘Til then, don’t even wonder.”
Left alone with her near catatonic mother and two young brothers, Ree must provide the best life she can for them. Only she needs the house to do it. As it turns out, Jessup used the house and the adjacent timberland as collateral to post bail. Now Ree must to find him, whatever the cost. Blood runs deep in the hills surrounding the Dolly home, but blood isn’t always thicker than water. As Ree begins to ask difficult questions, she will learn just how little it can mean. The family dynamic is this novel is not quite like anything I’ve read before, so while it’s disturbing, it’s also refreshing. The families are all connected by blood, but there is a hillbilly, Godfather style hierarchy going on that prevents communication. Debts are not forgiven and charity is never solicited, even when necessary.
“Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.”
Ree is tough, so tough that one might wonder if she too might not be a bit crazy (she’s not). She is determined, but her determination is rooted in desperation and necessity, which makes it all the more dangerous. Ree is the teenage American equivalent Lisbeth Salander without the absurdity (and I do like the Millennium Trilogy). I admire her (and can relate to her) and she will likely live on my literary heroines list for the foreseeable future.
This hillbilly odyssey is a brilliant depiction of how barren and hostile life in the rural Ozarks can be. To my knowledge, Woodrell nails the dialect and it came as no surprise when I read he is native to and currently resides in the area. If you are looking for compelling, dark fiction, I would strongly suggest Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell.