I actually heard of Daniel Woodrell’s newest book, a collection of short stories called The Outlaw Album, before I realized he was also the author of Winter’s Bone. After a little more research, I discovered that Woodrell is the author of a number of books, most of which are set in the Missouri Ozarks, where he grew up, and most of which are gritty crime stories.
Winter’s Bone is set in the hills of the Ozarks, where everyone is related, money is scarce and the main source of income seem to be selling or making drugs and raising livestock. The novel centers around Ree Dolly, a 16-year-old girl who’s raising her younger brothers and caring for her mentally ill mom. When her dad Jessup, an infamous meth cooker, goes missing after being released on bond, she’s surprised to hear that he put their meager house and land up as collateral. If he doesn’t make his court date, they’ll be homeless within a few weeks.
Ree roams the neighboring hills in search of her father, knocking on doors and begging her “relatives” for information on Jessup. But most of these mountain people don’t want to be bothered, because as one woman puts it, “talking just causes witnesses.” Then her dad misses his court date and Ree becomes desperate to find him, dead or alive.
Woodrell’s writing is similar to Cormac McCarthy’s (The Road, No Country for Old Men), one of my favorite authors, and Charles Frazier’s (Cold Mountain). His writing is beautiful, full of detail and intelligent, yet focuses on downright scary people and events, in a destitute part of the country we don’t know much about. In Winter’s Bone, Ree teaches her younger brothers to shot, skin a squirrel and make squirrel stew, and aspires to join the Army because she wasn’t even able to finish high school and there aren’t many other occupations for women in her neck of the woods. Even though the male characters in the novel are intimidating and powerful, I appreciated how Woodrell depicted the women to be just as tough and strong.
I was excited to watch Winter’s Bone (nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and available on Instant Netflix) after finishing the book. Ree is played by Jennifer Lawrence, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, and her Uncle Teardrop is played by John Hawkes (who made the movie in my opinion), who was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. It didn’t disappoint, and it certainly portrayed the people of the Ozarks much like the book did, right down to their tired and tough personalities and homesteads (and clothes, my goodness). It was spooky. And the movie followed the plot of book for the most part–though it’s no surprise that there’s more backstory and details in the book.
Overall, I really liked Winter’s Bone and I’m definitely going to read more from Woodrell. If you like gritty, dark, beautifully-written, detail-rich stories, this is one to read.