Sunday, December 03, 2006
In the jacket reviews, Edna O’Brien and Kaye Gibbons both call Daniel Woodrell’s novel “lyrical.” Although I am somewhat wary of novels described as lyrical, in this case the word is apt, yet need not scare a prospective reader away.
Woodrell’s use of language approaches the poetic but is able to hold to the novel form. It involves an intense juxtaposition of the grim and the beautiful. Aptly named, the novel takes place entirely in the space of a few winter’s days. Weather is another character in the book, as painfully beautiful as its people. “Sleet crackled down, laid a cold sheen across everything. The afternoon sky dimmed and lights from the house carried into the yard as gleamings stretched by skidding across the ice.”
Winter’s Bone is an intimate look at a culture that is more foreign to my experience than most distant countries although geographically only a day’s drive from home. The heroine, Ree Dolly is a young woman caught in a cycle of poverty, crime, and isolation in the Ozark Mountains. After her father disappears, she discovers that he put up their house as bond and goes on a search for him.
The men she meets along the way carry names like Uncle Teardrop, Thump Milton and Little Arthur. They carry guns, deal drugs and do not hesitate to hit a woman. The women are as harsh as their lives, kind at times but in ways more vicious than the men. But Ree’s courage earns her a grudging respect and reluctant answers to her questions although not without pain. As the author says: “Love and hate hold hands always so it made natural sense that they’d get confused. . . .”
Read Winter’s Bone on a cold day, with snow falling outside and the wind blowing. Then read it the next morning with the sun sparkling on the snow and the tree limbs bowed with excess weight. It is worth the journey.