Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter's Bone, the Novel

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Winter’s Bone is the fictional account of the struggling and very dysfunctional Dolly family who live way out on a rutted road in the Missouri Ozarks.    Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly is the de facto parent to her two younger brothers, Sonny, age ten, and Harold, age eight.   Ree is also burdened with taking care of her mentally ill mother.  The father, Jessup Dolly, is a meth cook and career criminal who left the household two months prior and hasn’t returned.

Ree learns as the novel begins that her father has obtained bail by putting up the deed to the family home.   If he fails to show for his trial in a couple of weeks the family will be homeless, and, as she describes it, have to go live in the fields.  Much of the remainder of the story involves the search for Jessup that she undertakes in order to keep a roof over the heads of her brothers and mother.

 It is winter, and it is cold.

During Ree’s quest to find her father readers are introduced to many members of her extended family of hill folk, most of whom are criminals of one stripe or another and have connections to the meth business – either as manufacturers, consumers, or both.  They have an array of colorful names such as Buster Leroy Dolly, Blond Milton, Thump Milton, Catfish Milton, Little Arthur, and my personal favorite, Uncle Teardrop Dolly.

The women of the book are also very unique, though most have more common names.   At one point three of the older women attack Ree (because she is asking too many questions) and nearly beat her to death.    Uncle Teardrop consoles her later by saying “You took that beatin’ good as most men I’ve seen.”

The Dollys and their kin are tough.

Novelist Daniel Woodrell describes his characters in ugly, deliberate terms.    As a social worker who has himself roamed the hills and hollers of southern Missouri, I can attest to the genuineness of his creations – those folks actually exist, though with different names.    Winter’s Bone, by dwelling solely in the meth subculture, leaves readers with the impression that all of the people in and around Woodrell’s West Table (West Plains) are low-functioning drug addicts with yellow, rotted teeth and multiple loaded weapons - all of whom know how to gut squirrels and cook meth.   Meth is a serious problem in the Ozarks (as well as in much of the United States), but as of yet it does not define the region.

Winter’s Bone is a bleak tale, one that clearly illustrates how bad life can get.  It is not a fun read, but the book does carefully present a lifestyle that most of us would strive to avoid.   

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