Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Ree Dolly is forced to grow up too soon for her sixteen years when her father puts their house up as collateral for his bail and then skips town.  It might be easier on Ree if she were the only one involved, but she’s trying to raise two younger brothers largely by herself and caregiving a mind-wandering mother.  Her extended family scatters itself largely in their rural county, but everyone she speaks to has their own interests (more than occasionally outside the law) and Ree’s daddy has trod on plenty of toes.  Asking her relatives about the whereabouts of her father proves to be a dangerous proposition for Ree.

Harsh, stark, unyielding, hardscrabble – these are only a few of the words that can describe the world portrayed in Winter’s Bone.  Its characters are the type that have forever been on the frayed edge of the American Dream; they inhabit the rough landscape of the Missouri Ozarks and are as hard as that rocky land, living on a local economy that barely exists and family meth labs.  Ree is herself a product of this unforgiving environment.  Despite the lack of opportunity and her predicament in the book, Ree never gives up a belief in a future for herself and her family, away from the thankless existence of early pregnancy, drug abuse, and violence.

This book is my second encounter with Daniel Woodrell; I first met his mix of humor and country noir in Tomato Red.  He’s written several other books, and if this one and Tomato Red are any indication, I’m sure the rest of his oeuvre is worth a read.  Be prepared – Woodrell’s prose is wonderful, but the ride through his backwoods America can be a harrowing one.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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