Sunday, December 03, 2006



Winter's Bone, which the Third Day Book Club read this month, is perfectly titled. The world portrayed so starkly here is stripped, hard, and cold. In a strange way, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel, The Road. Civilization, as we know it, isn't much in evidence in the landscape where Ree Dolly "sixteen years old...with abrupt green eyes" finds herself. As a member of a fractious and savage clan, she has never known anything else. And yet, Woodrell succeeds in making us feel her longing for more. For better.

When the novel, opens Ree stands in the doorway of her home, looking at the meat that hangs from trees. It's a visceral image of the family hunger that drives her throughout the novel. Left to care for her two brothers and her mentally ill mother, she can never forget how close they are to "living in the field like dogs." She fears that her little brothers will be "dead to wonder by the age of 12." The only escape she can imagine for herself is to join the army.

Like countless fictional heroes and heroines before her, Ree undertakes a journey that leads her both deeper into the harsh reality that surrounds her and deeper into herself. If it weren't for the fierce courage and fragile hope that self contains, Ree's life, and Winter's Bone would be utterly without redemption--and for this reader, at least, nearly unreadable.

But despite Ree's strength, deliverance of any kind for Ree and her family isn't likely. Her journey is described this way:

"She became ice as she walked. White wads broke on her head and dripped to her shoulders to freeze and thicken. The green hood had become an ice hat and her shoulders a hard cold yoke."

In prose that is spare, laconic and darkly poetic, Woodrell leads Ree through a mystery that grows with every step she takes. Ree has left home to search for her father, who "cooks crank" and who has imperiled the family by posting their home as bail. With every harsh encounter, the sense of menace--and the suspense--grows.

I cannot say I enjoyed this novel. But Winter's Bone was clearly not fashioned to be enjoyed; it was fashioned to haunt. With its taut plotline, its unswerving adherence to its own savage truth, and its remarkable heroine, it has succeeded at that.


If everyone who's read this month's selection hasn't done so, hie thee hence to Paris Parfait's blog and post your link!

Meanwhile, I'm looking for a volunteer to host next month's meeting on January 3rd. Someone? Anyone?


paris parfait said...

Excellent review, Patry. Yes, definitely a haunting tale that won't soon be forgotten. Good point about Ree looking at the meat hanging from trees as a visceral image of the family hunger that drives her. The "dead to wonder by the age of 12" is probably my favourite line of the book, as it hurts to imagine a life "dead to wonder," infused with hopelessness and resignation.

Anonymous said...

I would offer to host, but won't have time to read at Christmas. I didn't even have time to read this one. Sounds interesting though.

Becca said...

Superb comments, Patry. Yes, this book is definitely not one that is meant to be "enjoyed," but there is certainly great value in it nevertheless.

The virtual book club is a fabulous idea! I'm off to do a little research on the three choices for next month, so I can "vote intelligently"!

Patry Francis said...

tara: It is probably the line that will stick with me, too. It also gave me a new goal: to nurture the wonder every day. Without it, who are we?

heather elise: I hear you; this month is busy for everyone. Hope you'll jump in next month. Till then, enjoy the holidays!

becca: Thanks again for joining in the book club--especially after doing nano. (I cried uncle after about a week.) I'm looking forward to your book club choice.

Anonymous said...

You hit it right on with the term "savage truth."

Considering that the mountain people in general are a people used to growing and making what they need, I can see how in this day that virtue could have devolved for some into making drugs.

At this point, I need to skip next month but hope to pick up my participation in Februrary.

Anonymous said...

Oh my.. how I can relate to the title, "Winter's Bone". My world is a much kinder place.. but nearly as cold.

Patry Francis said...

colleen: As Heather said, December may be a difficult month for a lot of people. See you in February. (Well, I'll definitely "see" you before that, but for the book club, I mean...)
p.s. I like your perspective about "making what they need". It's easy to judge the characters in this novel, but their lives are so harsh and close to the bone, who can say with certainty we wouldn't be "cooking crank" if we'd had their experiences?

coll: I know I shouldn't complain--especially since it's keeping the heating bills low, but right now I'm longing for a little taste of winter here in New England. Our temperature today was around 50.

Anonymous said...

Patry, I love seeing how you've depicted Ree - you've captured the spirit of her character quite well, I think ("especially er abrupt green eyes!").

I think you described it quite well,as a book not fashioned to be enjoyed, but meant to haunt the reader. I think the author succeeded in doing just that.

gerry rosser said...

I crapped out this month on the book reading and review, but hope my "membership" in the club survives.

It is very hard for me to read books like this, considering how I grew up, so once I read the blurb, I skipped it.

Left-handed Trees... said...

With the end of the semester, several books over-due for review to read, and NaNoWriMo madness, I didn't get to read this month's selection. However, I am intrigued--so it may find its way to my winter bookshelf yet. Your picture was wonderful--I don't know the character, so I'm just speaking on aesthetics alone. I loved it!

Mindy Tarquini said...

I finally got my act together and posted links to you and to Tara and tried to explain the book club, Patry. For whatever reason, I think this book demanded more of me than I had time to give, mostly because of the language. I'm hoping to give it more than a quick read sometime because I think I shortsheeted myself with this one.

Shannon Hopkins said...

I'd host but I don't have time, and I can't figure out how to do icons and images on my Blog City account, perhaps because I have a Mac. They end up as a string of HTML language in the gutter instead of the images they're supposed to be. But maybe in the summer, when classes are out? Maybe by then I'll have the technical stuff sorted out, too!

Shannon Hopkins said...

Oh, and I loved your review.

Patry Francis said...

tinker: thanks for the kind words about my sketch. I was thinking of those abrupt green eyes as my fingers moved across the paper.

gerry: This was definitely not a book for everyone--which is why I plan to have an alternate next month. Might make it fun for people to hear about the book they DIDN'T decide to read.

delia: Thanks for noticing my sketch! Hope you'll be able to read with us next month--though it's likely to be a busy one.

mindy: I know what you mean about the book being demanding. It may have been short and full of action, but the prose was very dense.

tarakuanyin: I'm just figuring out a few of those things myself, though I'm hardly adept. Anyway, I don't mind folks gathering here to chat next January 3rd.

Anonymous said...

Still prostrate on my fainting couch with the cumulative effects of cathode ray poisoning (not really) and logorrhea (that part's true) after NaBloPoMo, but I wanted to congratulate you on your artistic efforts. It looks like you're really breaking some stuff down inside. Good for you.

Enjoy. I got into colored pencils because I had cats and no studio or no studio with a door on it. Oh, and because I'm obsessive compulsive, and there is nothing like colored pencil for control over fine detail. If you want a jumpstart on some fine art techniques, the kind of techniques that turn a drawing into a painting, I recommend books by Bet Borgeson and Gary Greene. If you just want to make your own discoveries, go for it.

hahahahahaha -- I couldn't get away without a book recommendation! Cheers!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

So this means no Jan 3rd book? I was looking forward to it. Well February will be here soon enough. I'd offer to host but I'm not sure if I have enough contacts to help out or if I'd know what I'm doing. My blog is only 6 months old and I'm still learning the details of links and so on. How about I host in the spring?
Oh, and I "enjoyed" the book, disturbing though it was.

Unknown said...

Ugh, you got spammed comment before me. Yuck.

Patry Francis said...

Oh no, Sarala, we'll definitely be reading a book for January. I just threw out the offer in case someone WANTED to host. But I certainly don't mind having it here. I just wish all my parties were so low maintenance! (The only one who's not welcome is the spammer.)

p.s. I'm happy to hear you say you're excited about next month!

Patry Francis said...

And Sara: You know what you've gone and done--sent me scurrying for Now that I have my lovely pencils I really do want to do more than look at them.