Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Winter's Bone

Every now and again I like to take a break from my fantasy and comic reading for a little jaunt in the crime/thriller/mystery realms of fiction.  This is one such occasion.

Winter's Bone is a recent victim of the Hollywood trend where they take books and make 'em into movies.  I'm not much of a movie watcher, but occasionally people who know my tastes in stories will recommend a film to me and if said movie happened to be a book before it was a movie, I'll usually try to read the source material first, which is exactly what led me to this novel.

Winter's Bone follows Ree Dolly, a sixteen year old girl, busy taking care of her two little brothers, and her crazy mother, trying to make it through a tough winter in the Ozarks.  Her dad, out on bail for charges of running a crystal meth lab, has a court date coming up but he's gone missing.  This wouldn't be much of a concern to Ree, but her father put the house, and the family's vast tract of timber up to make his bail.  If her father doesn't show his face in court, the house and land will be lost and Ree, her little brothers, and her mother will be homeless.  Ree takes it upon herself to track her father down, calling upon a variety of shady family and community members who might know of his whereabouts.

Winter's Bone is a slim and trim novel, with no wasted words or space.  The narrative maintains it's singular focus and drives straight ahead with very little preamble.  I enjoyed the slick presentation and honed edge of the narrative flow.  The author, Daniel Woodrell does a remarkable job of giving the story a pared down feel, without actually skimping on prose or descriptive passages.  Woodrell also does a great job of bringing the setting of a small, rural town in the Ozarks to life on the page.  Though I've never visited that part of the country, it was easy to visualize, and get a sense of what the place is like.

Woodrell also was able to give me a strong impression of the mentality and tacit cultural norms the people of that region possess.  It's difficult for me to put my finger on exactly how he accomplished this, but I was able to fathom the depth of the Dolly family network and the rural culture that "circles the wagons" and protects itself at all costs from outside threats.  This quality gave the novel some added depth that I wasn't expecting, yet fully appreciated.

On top of a strong narrative flow, and the insider's glimpse at the fringe of society, Woodrell also adds strong character building to his list of talents.  Despite being just sixteen, Ree Dolly is tough, and world weary beyond her years.  She's got guts too.  Her search for her father is an act of bull headed bravery that I have to admire; Ree is easily one of the most memorable and remarkable women of fiction I've experienced. In addition to Ree, her Uncle Teardrop, and the rest of the cast of characters are all impressively written.

The sharp pacing, solid plotting, astute writing and intriguing characters all combine to make Winter's Bone a great read.  Woodrell is definitely an author I'll be getting back to some day.  Another great excursion afield from my usual fantasy and comic hauntings.  Worth a read, before you watch the film, which, by the way, I also recommend.  Hollywood didn't fuck that one up. The book, as usual, is better.

Grade: A-

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