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Saturday, July 28, 2007
Department of Book Reports 27
Posted by Tammy
Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell (Little Brown, $13.99) Woodrell has always been a favorite author of mine. I found his writing back when I was the sales rep for Dutton Books in the eighties. Each book has been more finely crafted than the last, and Winter's Bone is truly his best. Until he puts out the next volume, that is.
We first met the Dolly clan in Give Us A Kiss. Here, 16 year old Ree is raising her two younger brothers and caring for her addled mother. Scraping, raw poverty promises a very hard winter for the family. Ree's father, the county's best "crank chef", has left them to fend for themselves, no wood chopped, no food set aside. He has jumped bail after putting the family house and timbered lands up as collateral. The local police have given Ree a deadline to bring him in, or as her suspicions grow, prove that he is dead.
To prove this she must ask questions of her extended family, the ruling patriarchs of the hollows. A couple of generations ago their religious fundamentalism mutated into a close-knit and close-lipped clan. The questions are met with a violent beating, meted out by the womenfolk. Ree survives the beating and continues pushing for answers. Finally, the women relent, and help her find the truth.
This is a very simple outline of the plot. What makes this small book soar is the language, every word is perfect. Woodrell has a storyteller's soul and can draw you in. Descriptions of the Ozarks take on a sacred tone, the fields of stones, frozen caves and unrelenting icy rains are vividly etched. This NPR link has the opening chapter. Woodrell has devoted himself to the stories in those villages clinging to the hollows. Often called Ozarks Noir, I think this is a very good description of his work.
You might be familiar with one of Woodrell's stories, Woe to Live On was the basis for Ang Lee's movie Ride With the Devil. Most of the early volumes are out of print, a few are available in UK editions. This is definitely an author to be on the look-out for while prowling used bookstores.
Winter's Bone is available at Jackson Street Books and Fine Independent Bookstores everywhere.
democommie™™™™®© was last seen heading North, and so was no help whatsoever this week.