Last year an obsession with Jennifer Lawrence (totally healthy if a little Tumblr induced) led me to this strange and kind of wonderful novel.
Lawrence was Oscar nominated for her portrayal of Ree Dolly, a sixteen year old girl living in the Ozarks, a mountainous region that covers four States including Alabama and Missouri.
Winter’s Bone is set in the Missouri Ozarks where Ree is raising her two younger brothers, caring for her Mother (who is rarely lucid enough to help out) and planning her escape into the army when she turns seventeen. Her town, if you can call it that, is made up of her own family by and large. This is Moonshine territory, though it also churns out crystal meth, something which Ree’s absentee Father was good at ‘cooking’.
It is cold and hostile in these mountains, not just in climate and surroundings.
Ree’s story involves her absent Father, his putting their house up as Bond collatoral and a date in court rapidly approaching. If he does not show up for his court date Ree and her family will be homeless and at the mercy of the environment and her so-called family.
So, after being informed of this by ‘the law’ Ree takes matters into her own hands, searching for her Father in a place where to ask questions is to ask to get your head kicked in.
This novel is a journey and an almost quest for Ree, whilst also being a stark portrayal of life in some parts of the Ozarks.
The language and the imagery are unforgiving for the reader. It takes a few pages to absorb the way the characters speak, you have to work at your imagination to create the voices in your mind so the speech makes sense (or at least I did).
What Ree goes through, shooting squirrels and skinning them and having the quite literal crap beaten out of her, is not designed to be pleasant for the reader. I found myself so absorbed in Ree’s journey that I had my hand over my mouth at points, or needed to take a second before I continued reading.
The writing is superb. The author, Daniel Woodrell, lives in the Ozarks and so you can imagine he has witnessed some of what he writes about. I have never read a book quite so vivid before. The use of language is beautiful and emotive. He describes the characters carefully and allows you to become fully absorbed in the story.
The hunt for her Father forces Ree to grow up more than she had already, something that takes her by surprise I felt. It also surprises her how much she actually does need a grown up sometimes. Reading what this sixteen year old is going through makes the reader outraged for her, for her situation and the hostility of those around her.
The ending did not surprise me, however I was indignant for Ree. I will not spoil what happens but suffice to say I think everyone will have a different opinion on what should happen next.
This is not a long novel by any means however I would urge people to stop every few chapters or so to absorb the story.
I am very much looking forward to watching the film because if Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen was anything to go by, her Ree will be a breathtaking force of character, strength, and fragility.