Review: Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell

Winter's Bone - Daniel WoodrellWinter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell
Release Date: 2006
Rating:  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis:  The sheriff’s deputy at the front door brings hard news to Ree Dolly. Her father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn’t show up for his next court date.

Ree’s father has disappeared before. The Dolly clan has worked the shadowy side of the law for generations, and arrests (and attempts to avoid them) are part of life in Rathlin Valley. But the house is all they have, and Ree’s father would never forfeit it to the bond company unless something awful happened. With two young brothers depending on her and a mother who’s entered a kind of second childhood, Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive, or else see her family turned out into the unforgiving cold.

Sixteen-year-old Ree, who has grown up in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. She perseveres past obstacles of every kind and finally confronts the top figures in the family’s hierarchy.

Along the way to a shocking revelation, Ree discovers unexpected depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost.

Review:  For my first review in a very long time, I’ve eschewed my original choice (check back soon) and have chosen a book I’ve just finished that really shook me.  It’s also an added bonus that it’s the January book for my town’s book club (which I started, ahem).

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell was a punch to the gut, a smack in the face and a stab in the heart.  The level of violence, poverty and all around depressive nature of this book kept me moving to the next page despite my revulsion.  Many times I wanted to stop and put the book down and move on to something happier but I couldn’t get Ree out of my mind.  I had to know that she survived.

Survival is the recurrent theme and ultimate goal in Winter’s Bone.  Will Ree, her mother and her brother’s have enough food to eat?  Will Jessup turn himself in so they keep a roof over their heads?  Even in the bleakest moments when all is lost, Ree is hellbent on making it through, whether she has to sell land, move into a cave or commit an act so gruesome that my stomach churned.  Failure is not an option.

The scenes with the beatings were hard to read.  I’m not the squeamish sort but Woodrell does not gloss over a single spit-string of blood.  Everything is raw, chapped, bloodied, bruised… even before Ree gets the crap knocked out of her.  And once she does? Well, nothing is left to the imagination. It’s not an easy book to get through, despite its lower page count.

I’d like to think that Ree moves on in life and joins the Army as she wanted to do.  I’d like to think that she eventually finds the love she wants and deserves.  I’d like to think her mother passes peacefully and her brothers grow up to be sound men. I’d like to think that Ree lives to a ripe old age.  But you know what? I’m pretty damn sure I’m wrong on all of those counts.  Ree’s existence is so fraught with disappointment and duty that I’m pretty sure I know how she ends up.  I don’t think she ever leaves her holler.  I think she grows older and takes care of her mother and brothers. I think her brothers eventually leave because they’re men.  I think Ree winds up either alone or with some man who doesn’t give two craps about much of anything.

God… Winter’s Bone was such a bleak, cold and depressing book… but one I greatly enjoyed.  I’ll most likely end up watching the movie at some point, but I do worry that Winter’s Bone has been given the glossy, Hollywood treatment.  We’ll see.

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