Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Ree Dolly’s father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn’t show up for his next court date. With two young brothers depending on her, 16-year-old Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive. Living in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, Ree learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. But, as an unsettling revelation lurks, Ree discovers unforeseen depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost.
** spoiler alert **
Did I miss something? Maybe this is why I don’t read much adult contemporary fiction. Between all the awards and great reviews, I was really excited to read this book. It was incredibly disappointing.
The book was well written. However I think I just don’t like that melancholy, over descriptive writing style maybe. I feel like I know more about the landscape around Ree’s home than I do about her or any of the other characters. I get that it’s supposed to be atmospheric and stuff, but after awhile I lost patience with hearing about every single different kind of snow and rock and tree and wind. Slogging through it all made the book seem a lot longer than 193 pages. I got tired of all the disgusting intricate descriptions of bodily functions too. I felt like they were just added for either shock value or to make the mood even more grim. I kept waiting for something to HAPPEN.
Nothing ever really did happen. I bought the book after reading the Kindle sample of the beginning, which was about two and half short chapters. I liked Ree and what was going on in those chapters. Turns out that was the most exciting part of the entire book. After that it’s just Ree randomly wandering in the woods (and of course the endless descriptions of said woods) interacting with various different characters for a few minutes here and there and getting into weird situations while she kind of tries to find her father. It wasn’t at all the harrowing tale of adventure and survival that it was billed as. There was very little plot here at all. Ree looks for her dad by asking a couple people where he is. That’s it. She asks the wrong person one too many times and gets beat up for it. Finally they admit he’s dead. For no apparent reason, really, her attackers show up at the end and offer to help her. Why not just do that when she first asked? I don’t know. It’s fun to beat people up I guess. Or at least the characters in this book seem to think so.
The whole thing felt like a waste to me, which is why I became so frustrated with it. There was no reason for any of it. It was all just innocent (or not so innocent) people living with the consequences of terrible choices that so many people were making. Everyone is all hopped up on drugs and broke and predominantly ignorant and that all just leads to a lot of really stupid fighting and feuding that could easily be prevented if anyone had the sense or ability to grow up and act like an adult and make a good choice here or there. It seemed that everyone just kept acting that way simply because that’s the way things were. Period. Gail, just as an example, could have given her baby up for adoption, instead of subjecting him to a life of severe poverty with a miserable mother who had to put up with a cheating husband who never loved her. It just didn’t make any sense. I’m not saying things like that never happen in real life. I’m sure they do. But it’s still frustrating to watch. I didn’t understand what was supposed to make Ree such a hero either. I’d think to be a hero you’d have to stand out among this crowd of selfish, abusive addicts and do something different with your life. She didn’t do anything different. She took a beating. Which doesn’t make anyone a hero. She simply survived. What else was she supposed to do? She tried to teach her brothers a thing or two here and there, although she seemed to only teach them things that would ensure they could live the exact same kind of life everyone else in the area was living. It said Ree dropped out of school to take care of her brothers. She wandered in the woods all day whether they were at school or not and often didn’t come home at night. She didn’t always cook for them or do much of anything with them on a daily basis. I don’t see what difference it would have made had she been in school while they were, except maybe improved her life a bit. She wanted to go in the Army to get away from everything and I think that was probably her best bet. Although she would have needed to finish high school or the equivalent to be able to do that too…. But by the end she decided to just stick around. Gail went back to her cheating husband even though he never tried to stop cheating and Ree just kept the house and told the boys she would buy a car with the money they received at the end. How does that help anything? Okay so their house wasn’t in danger of getting taken away, but she still didn’t have an education or a job or any kind of steady income or a plan. Ultimately her getting out and going in the Army would have helped her family more in the long run than her staying with them. I realize she wouldn’t be able to leave the boys until they were a bit older but it seemed as if they were all just going to go along as they always had. I didn’t see what was so heroic about that.
Also, just a side note, if their house had been taken, wouldn’t the kids have been sent to foster care since their mother was obviously unable to take care of them? And would that have been bad? I’m not saying foster care is always a great option but would it really be worse than how they were already living? Ree was only 16, her and her brothers could have stayed together until she finished high school and maybe at least not live in fear of starvation. Just a thought. Also in the questions at the end Daniel Woodrell says it’s called Winter’s Bone because, obviously it takes place in winter and “to throw someone a bone” is to help them a little or give them another chance. So the premise of the book was supposedly how Winter itself was throwing Ree a bone because she deserved it. Except, how I’m not so sure, because nothing really good happened to her. Sure they got to keep their house but their father was dead and they still have no steady source of income, adult caretaker or any kind of stability or hope for the future.
Ultimately this just wasn’t the book for me. Too many things were weird and seemed to just be added for dramatic (or melodramatic) effect. The plot was too shallow and slow and the ending was very unsatisfying. The only thing that would have made this book interesting or worth reading was if it were based on a true story. Being a work of fiction, it just didn’t seem to have a point, or leave me with anything to take away from it.