Ree Dolly is sixteen and old beyond her years, living a hard life trying to make ends meet in a beat up house, deep in the rural Ozarks of Missouri, where every neighbour within thirty miles is also some kind of relative who live by their own code. Her father comes and goes, her mother has slipped into her own hazy world, and her two younger brothers aren’t yet old enough to look after themselves. Not long after her father wanders out to spend a few days doing who knows what, a local deputy comes to the house and tells her that if he doesn’t show up for a court date in a couple of days time the rest of the family will be turned out to fend for themselves and the property handed over to the bail bond company. Determined that his won’t happen she sets out to try and hunt him down, only her suspicious, clannish, extended family seem equally as determined to thwart her.
Winter’s Bone is a powerful tale, exquisitely told. Woodrell expertly immerses the reader in the rural, clannish society of the Ozarks, creating a multi-textured sense of place populated by authentic familial and social relations. And immersion is the right word; one doesn’t simply read a description of Ree’s world, one is plunged into it, living it with her, experiencing all her anxieties and frustrations. The characterization is excellent and Ree and her close and extended family are full, complex characters which radiate emotional depth and whose interactions and dialogue resonate true. Whilst the story is sombre and bleak, it also has hope, and it quickly hooks the reader in, with the narrative taut and tense, and the prose beautiful and lyrical. Indeed, one of the strengths of Woodrell’s writing is that it is so rich and yet so economical. I sense that Winter's Bone is a story that will stay with me for a long time and I very much look forward to reading more of Woodrell's work.