Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
(Little, Brown and Company, 2006, 193 pages)
Winter’s Bone is both a beautifully written novel about poor inhabitants of Missouri’s Ozark hills and a gripping story of a young women’s search for her missing father. Jessup Dolly has disappeared, and his daughter, Ree, is determined to discover what has happened to him. Jessup cooks meth and has had numerous run-ins with the law. He has recently been released from jail, having put up the family’s house and land for his bond. In order to save the house for herself, her two brothers, and their ailing mother, Ree must either find Jessup to convince him to show up for his court date or produce evidence that he is dead. However, to do this, Ree has to go around asking questions of some of the other residents of the Rathlin Valley. This puts her in the path of a backwoods crime syndicate, and the more questions she asks the more danger she finds herself in.
Daniel Woodrell has commented in an interview that, as a writer, “I always think what I’m trying to do is take characters you normally wouldn’t care about and make you care about them.” The tiny inbred community of meth producers and criminals living in the Ozarks, of which Woodrell writes, would be easy enough not to care about. However, he immerses the reader so effectively in the lives and troubles of a particular family in this community, that one can’t help but develop a deep sense of the worth of people who it would otherwise be tempting to dismiss as ignorant hicks. Similarly, Woodrell made me care deeply about the landscape of the Ozark hills. His atmospheric descriptions of hills, creeks, weather, and rocks were not simply ornamental, but rather, they become an essential backdrop for understanding who the characters are and how they inhabit the world. These people, their grudges, their ways of life, and their landscape are given a kind of mythological significance that saturates the world of the novel.