Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell is about the rough and tough Ree Dolly who's left in charge of her crazy mother and her two younger brothers. She lives in a poor area where she has relatives seemingly speckled everywhere she goes. Her struggles to take care of her family at age sixteen by herself compounds when her father puts their house and land up as security for his bond, and then he disappears. In a determination to save her house and land, Ree sets out to find her father. Through her quest we learn what one will sacrifice for love and the meaning of courage.
I really liked Ree. How could you not? She says things like, "Right now I feel like I want to blow me a big sloppy hole clean through your stinkin' guts." She doesn't take no shit from no one and she loves her brothers and mother so fiercely that she's willing to risk anything for them, even her dreams of escaping the life of poverty and drugs that surrounds her. This novel is rough and ugly at times, showing people's ruthlessness and weaknesses. It is written bluntly and sometimes awkwardly: "Clouds looked to be splitting on distant peaks, dark rolling bolts torn around the mountain tops to patch the blue sky with grim. Frosty wet began to fall, not as flakes nor rain but as tiny white wads that burst as drops landing and froze a sudden glaze atop the snow." Those sentences are an example of the awkward style of writing I found in this book to be very distracting. The first sentence started out alright, but Woodrell's habit of ending sentences with adjectives makes the sentence harsh (which may have been his intention, since much of the language used in this book are sharp and harsh) and awkward. I felt like often Woodrell's descriptions didn't flow because of this style of writing and it was very difficult for me to get into the story for much of the book because I was so distracted by his style of writing. The second sentence re-demonstrates Woodrell's using an adjective as a noun writing style, but not at the end of the sentence, but rather at the beginning. These two sentences do follow each other in the book, and so to have this harsh method used twice right in a row made me doubly cringe. "Frost wet"? I feel like I'm talking to a two year old who doesn't know his adjectives from his nouns. Maybe it worked for some people, but frankly, for me it didn't. Not that all of his descriptions and writing were horrible, just the ones that used that particular style.
The characters are very vivid in this novel and at once despicable and lovable. It is often that a character you have pegged as one thing shows another face in this story. The characters are often complex, especially Ree, who battles her need to escape with her love and determination towards her family, especially her little brothers whom she wants to be raised different than all the other Dollys to make something of themselves. She also battles her love and attraction for a best friend whom she can never have and the fear and love for an Uncle who raped her and for a father who made mistakes that threatened to take everything from her and her family, but whom she comes to realizes loves her and her family in his own way. Ree is a complex character who doesn't ask for much for herself and protects herself with a hard layer of tough talk and attitude backed by her independence and courage.
This novel is dark and encouraging, brutal and tender, a contrast of all sorts that leave you feeling the harsh realities of the world. It is not a novel in which you can escape in and feel all warm and fuzzy in the end, on the contrary, it's a novel that is unforgiving with it's reality and bluntness and perhaps will make you appreciate your cozy life more, as it did for me. The novel's ending is the epitome of reality in every sense. It does not end in the most ideal way, with a nice red bow tied around it, it ends realistically, how it'd probably have ended in real life. It is a good, quick read, but not a novel that will awe you or steal you from your life. For me, it didn't stick either, the novel quickly drifted from my consciousness and I was quick to move on to my next read, Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, whose writing style vastly fits my tastes better. It's full of long elaborate descriptions that suck you away into another place. Descriptions that are so pretty that sometimes you forget to pay attention to the actual meaning of the sentence and have to reread it. Granted, that takes you out of the story a bit as well, but in a way that you don't mind because, especially as a writer, you just appreciate the writing so damn much.
My review for Thirteen Moons will be coming, pending the completion of the book. I'm already behind on my aggressive schedule for reading it, so I'd better get a reading!
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