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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Department of Book Reports: Winter's Bone

I'm going to post a re-run from July '07 today, because the movie is opening this weekend and everything I hear sounds like this will be a movie that lives up to the book.

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.

These books are available from Jackson Street Books and other fine Independent bookstores.As always, books ordered here will have a freebie publishers Advance Reading Copy included as a thank you to our blogosphere friends.


  1. I'm reading a non-fiction book about a clan like that, from up in your former neck of the Northwoods, only they're not nearly so much violent fun. It was written by a cousin of Mrs. Bukko's (we buzz across the border to visit him every now and then.) Sadly, it involves a cult of dirty 60s hippies that claimed to be Christians, even though they took drugs (LSD) and believed in revolting concepts like "love everyone" and "find God in yourself." I haven't reached the end yet, so I'm hoping that before the cult breaks up (as all heretical sects do) that they will turn to the True Path of hating sinners and obeying the dictates of angry white preachermen.

  2. Dear Seattle Tammy:

    That book sounds good, the movie looks good too. I just wish they weren't my next door neighbors.

  3. hello...

    it's nice

    -Ad Agency in Delhi-

  4. If you're going to spam, at least post clickable links! I can't be bothered to cut 'n' paste spamlinks, after all. What a shame, because there's nothing I'd like more than to be on a houseboat floating in the lake around the Golden Temple in Amritsar when the Indian Army stages a full-scale assault on Sikh separatists holed up inside. Fireworks with real high explosives, woo-hoo!


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.