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"Winter's Bone" by Daniel Woodrell

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Daniel Woodrell’s prose in Winter’s Bone reflects his characters’ thought and speech: it’s pared down to the essentials – so laconic and economical that it almost becomes oblique. This is one of the main charms of this novel – the whittled-down telling of the raw emotion and ever-present tendency to violence of the characters; the stark natural world in winter fury and snow-bound calm; the harsh truth about backwoods mountain folk who are almost all related, and who as often as not, operate on the wrong side of the law.

The meanness and betrayal swirl around a sixteen year-old girl, Ree Dolly, whose father has run from the law again. Not only has he gone on the lam, but has signed over his home – Ree’s home, which she shares with her addled Mom and two younger brothers – as collateral for his bail. Ree must try to find and deliver him into court, but begins to suspect something much more … final has happened to him.

Because of her Dad, Ree’s family and kin are persona non grata around the Ozark woods and hollows where they live. While she herself is blameless, she is still stopped from seeking help in finding her missing miscreant Dad. The way Mr. Woodrell portrays the boundless courage she shows in the face of mortal danger, warrants your reading this book by itself. Ree is a stunning invention – pre-eminent in her neighborhood at sixteen, withstanding threats, teaching her brothers how to shoot as her quest becomes tougher, defying friend and enemy alike to achieve her goal – she’s a stunner, and I honor the author for conceiving her and executing her portrait so cleanly and convincingly.


I also honor Mr. Woodrell for adopting the language of his characters as his own for his narration. It places him and us squarely in the action. And there is action aplenty. This is not a story for the faint-hearted, what with the beating and (behind the scenes) murder and rampant meth production and the drinking and the getting high. This book deals with life-and-death issues in a way that honors the courageous and loyal, and does it in a way that fits its subject matter perfectly.

This novel really sneaked up on me. It’s grand. Check it out.
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