Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's hard to believe this book exists. It crosses the grim noir tradition of the city with the generally invisible rural folks of the Ozarks. Then it takes a teenage girl as its protagonist. If I hadn't known its reputation, I'd never have given it a shot. I'm very glad I did, though, because it stands with some of the finest contemporary hardboiled/neo-pulp/neo-noir work I know.

For starters, Daniel Woodrell can write. I've seen some criticism that he's trying to do low-rent Cormac McCarthy, but if you set your sights that high and don't trip -- and Woodrell certainly stays on his own two feet -- then you've certainly accomplished something. There's a great rhythm to these sentences, and there's a mastery of movement as well. The novel never bogs down even when much of it takes place as the characters come to quiet, fuller understanding of themselves.

Ree Dolly is a terrific character, a genuine heroine who -- toughened by virtue of being the oldest child in a deeply dysfunctional family -- resolves to take care of the weaker people in her care. The story is fairly straightforward; it earns each small bit of growth from each of its characters. All the while, it stays true to its very grim, very human premises. These are rough, even accursed people, but Woodrell manages to give them a powerful dignity without inventing any false sympathy.

This is not "easy" to read (it's hard to put down but some of the blunt violence is shocking) but it's definitely worth it.

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