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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Winter's Bone As Cold and Bleak As a Missouri Winter

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I've read some disheartening novels in my time, but I'm not sure I've ever encountered one as depressing as Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. From its icy blue cover to its frigid setting to its crusty characters, the book's as cold and bleak as a Missouri winter. Which is, I guess, the point. But still - talk about depressing.

The story revolves around Ree Dolly, a 16-year-old girl living in the hills of the Missouri Ozarks in a community full of her ne'er-d0-well relatives ("...dead to wonder by age twelve, dulled to life, empty of kindness, boiling with mean. So many Dolly kids were that way, ruined before they had chin hair, groomed to live outside square law and abide by the remorseless blood-soaked commandments that governed lives led outside square law" [8]). She plans to escape her poverty-stricken life the second she's old enough to join the Army, but for now, she's stuck taking care of her two young brothers and her mother, whose mind took a hike years ago. It's a hard, squalid existence, one Ree stoically endures while dreaming of something better.

All Ree's hopes are dashed one glacial winter morning when Johnny Law comes nosing around, asking about her father. A notorious crank chef, Jessup Dolly has skipped town, presumably to avoid his upcoming court date. He's posted the Dolly's home and timber acres as his bail bond; if Jessup doesn't appear in front of the judge, Ree and her family will lose the few assets they have. Knowing she can't keep her family together without a roof over their heads, Ree vows to drag her father home, no matter what it takes. It's a dangerous task, involving confrontations with the vilest Dollys the Ozarks have ever produced. With little choice, the determined teen sets out across the frozen hills on a life-or-death quest to save the only things in her world that are worth redeeming - her still-innocent brothers. And, maybe, herself.

As hardened as Ree is, she's an admirable character, one who's easy to root for if difficult to like. She is, in fact, the only (semi-) bright spot in the brutal, arctic landscape of Winter's Bone. Woodrell's raw, unsympathetic look at families steeped in the Ozark drug culture is both vivid and compelling, just not particularly uplifting. The novel's a quick read, to be sure, but not an easy one at all. If it had been one page longer, or if I hadn't been too sick to get out of bed when I read it, I wouldn't have finished Winter's Bone. It's well-written, just not my cup of tea. Like at all.

(Readalikes: Although the settings are vastly different, Winter's Bone reminds me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, violence, sexual content and portrayals of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love: I bought Winter's Bone from Borders (*sniff*) with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.


  1. Love your title on this one and had to check out your review because of it. Being a native Missourian and all. This is a new title for me and love the setting and the premise. Ree sounds like an amazing character and one I would love to spend time with. Thanks for the great review

  2. Sorry you've been sick - yes, I caught that in the midst of your review. ;-)

    Have you seen the movie? I haven't but had been wondering if it might be a little bleak for me. I think so.

  3. Not sure if I'll try to look for this one. It may be better as a movie!

  4. I haven't read this but after watching the movie I'm not tempted to. The movie was sooooo bleak and depressing, and it sounds like the book is too. Not my cup of tea, either!


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