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Winter's Boneby Daniel Woodrell
Synopses & Reviews
Ree Dolly's father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn't show up for his next court date. With two young brothers depending on her, 16-year-old Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive. Living in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, Ree learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. But, as an unsettling revelation lurks, Ree discovers unforeseen depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost.
"Woodrell flirts with — but doesn't succumb to — cliche in his eighth novel, a luminescent portrait of the poor and desperate South that drafts 16-year-old Ree Dolly, blessed with 'abrupt green eyes,' as its unlikely heroine. Ree, too young to escape the Ozarks by joining the army, cares for her two younger brothers and mentally ill mother after her methamphetamine-cooking father, Jessup, disappears. Recently arrested on drug charges, Jessup bonded out of jail by using the family home as collateral, but with a court date set in one week's time and Jessup nowhere to be found, Ree has to find him — dead or alive — or the house will be repossessed. At its best, the novel captures the near-religious criminal mania pervasive in rural communities steeped in drug culture. Woodrell's prose, lyrical as often as dialogic, creates an unwieldy but alluring narrative that allows him to draw moments of unexpected tenderness from predictable scripts: from Ree's fearsome, criminal uncle Teardrop, Ree discovers the unshakable strength of family loyalty; from her friend Gail and her woefully dependant siblings, Ree learns that a faith in kinship can blossom in the face of a bleak and flawed existence." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If you're going to read 'Winter's Bone,' it's best to plan on reading it twice — once to get the feel of the thing and once to figure out who is who, who's got the power here and what opaque and arcane rules hold this world together. The world in question is Southeastern hill country, the Ozarks, where the population has lived almost as long as there have been white folks on the continent.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) The men, lounging in their ramshackle houses or dilapidated doublewides, appear to be feckless, savage, foul-tempered layabouts. If their great-grandfathers made their livings distilling moonshine, they rouse themselves from time to time to cook up a batch of crank. Their contempt for the law is boundless; they treat their women roughly. Their codes of honor and silence and family are as complex (and difficult to negotiate) as a badly written city ordinance. In the hands of a conventionally educated urban author, these characterizations would seem intolerably condescending and elitist, but Daniel Woodrell was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks and still makes his home in the Ozarks near the Arkansas line. He's not taking cheap shots; he's reporting life as he sees it. Ree Dolly, the heroine, is a tough little girl of 16 who lives across a creek from a flock of slack-jawed relatives up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere. Her father, Jessup, one of the best crank cookers in the region, has been increasingly shifty and pasty-faced of late. And now he's run off, after uttering these words: 'Start lookin" for me soon as you see my face. "Til then, don't even wonder.' He left as winter was coming on, no food in the cupboards, no money, not even any firewood for their potbellied stove, leaving Ree responsible for herself, two younger brothers and a mother, who's decided — according to Ree — to go crazy so that she won't have to face this impossibly hard life. It could be worse. At least they've got the house that's been in the family for generations. But Jessup has already spent time in jail and is due to be tried again. He's put up the house as part of his court bond, and if he doesn't make an upcoming court date, the pitiful little family soon will be evicted. It's true that when the first people came here, they lived in caves, but Ree doesn't relish that possibility. She must find her errant dad or risk homelessness in the harsh Ozark winter. That's the back story, the setup. The action plays out like an old-fashioned, hard-boiled novel. Ree, like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, plays the interlocutor, visiting one mysterious or vicious character after another, asking the same questions: Where is her father, and how can she get him back? Each time, she's warned off by various threats, lies or intimidation. She visits her Uncle Teardrop, who had almost half his face melted off in a methamphetamine explosion. She breaches the frightening compound owned by Thump Milton, who makes her sit on her haunches in a sleeting rain for an hour and then won't see her. And she drives to an actual village with streets to question her dad's old girlfriend. She gets nowhere. The ones who talk don't know, and the ones who know don't talk. But, as Ree is fond of saying, her family name is Dolly, and the Dollys are the toughest clan around. Soon enough, she realizes her dad is dead, but she must be able to prove it or be thrust out into the snow with two small boys and her crazy mom. Meanwhile, Ree teaches her brothers to shoot and gut squirrels. She washes her mother's hair. She scrounges money for groceries. She spends time with Gail, her best friend from before they dropped out of high school. (Gail's married now to a 19-year-old oaf and has a new baby.) And day after day, Ree struggles with all the inconvenience and humiliations of dire poverty. 'Winter's Bone' revolves around questions of grit, courage, authenticity, a willingness to face the pure physical unpleasantness of the way things are. 'Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat,' Woodrell writes. 'Meat hung from trees across the creek.' It's meat she needs, but it doesn't look like she'll get any. Her half-starving brothers have been crying for lack of meat, but she almost twists the ear off the one who wants to ask for some. When she teaches the boys to shoot, she insists they do their own gutting. When something terrible happens to her, she's reduced to little more than a slab of pounded meat. And by the end of the novel, she must prove herself by holding firm to some of the creepiest, most unpleasant meat of all. That's what her life comes down to. You could ask some carping questions about all of this. If all the people in these hollers occupy themselves making drugs, how come the standard of living isn't higher? If her brothers have been crying for protein and getting nothing but mush, how come Ree hasn't been out and about, shooting squirrel all along? Most important, in a world full of ignorant, antisocial savages, how did Ree turn out to be some kind of rustic Joan of Arc? (You can't say it's because she's a woman, because women commit some of the most heinous crimes in this narrative.) And it certainly can't be how she was raised, because her grandmother beat her with a strop, her father was a philandering dope fiend and her mother is nuts. I think the author just wanted her to be that way, the way Raymond Chandler wanted his Philip Marlowe to be a knight in a world full of craven churls. Still, there's a lot of density and interest here. The author is obsessed by the weirdness of incongruity: the way the little boys watch fancy English ways on public television while their own lives drown in squalor; the way Ree and Gail bicker over processed grated cheese in the general store; the way the most villainous mountain women can be felled not by gunshot but by that most subtle and feminine of weapons — round after round of righteous gossip. I don't know if this is a book that the reader is supposed to (BEG IAL)like or not. Woodrell simply shows us a world, the raw meat of it. If we can't stomach his reality, it's our problem, not his." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Despite the questionable ending, some teens will be drawn into Ree's story. But the book is not for the young or the faint-of-heart; Ree is not a saint, and this gritty story requires maturity to appreciate." VOYA
"A compelling testament to how people survive in the worst of circumstances." School Library Journal
"[C]ompact, atmospheric and deeply felt....Woodrell's novels...tap a ferocious, ancient manner of storytelling, shrewdly combining a poet's vocabulary with the vivid, old-fashioned vernacular of the backwoods. They're forces of nature." Seattle Times
"[P]acks a kind of biblical, Old West, Cormac McCarthy wallop — hard and deep....To call Woodrell...the Next Big Thing in literary crime fiction only can mean this: We are way behind. He is the current big thing. And not to be missed." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Woodrell burrows ever deeper into the heart of Ozark darkness, weaving a tale both haunting in its simplicity and mythic in scope....
"[Woodrell's] Old Testament prose and blunt vision have a chilly timelessness that suggests this novel will speak to readers as long as there are readers, and as long as violence is practiced more often than hope or language." David Bowman, The New York Times Book Review
"[A]nother stunner....Diehard fans of the author will not be disappointed with Winter's Bone. Those unacquainted with his work...are in for a unique reading experience that will doubtless send them scurrying off to find more of his novels." Kansas City Star
When Ree Dollys father skips bail, the 16-year-old knows if he doesn't show up, her family will lose their home. Her goal had been to leave her life of poverty and join the Army, but first she must find her father, teach her little brothers to fend for themselves, and escape a downward spiral of misery.
About the Author
Dan Woodrell is the author of five previous novels: Under the Bright Lights, Woe to Live On (to be filmed by director Ang Lee, adapted by James Shamus), Muscle for the Wing, The Ones You Do, and Give Us a Kiss — a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. He lives in Missouri.
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