I couldn't find any reviews that were anything less than adulatory of this month's book for the Third Day Book Club, a novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone. (I haven't read fellow bloggers' reviews, which aren't up until December 3rd; maybe some of them are critical.) (Not that I'm going to be all that critical, I'm just not feeling adulatory.) (But then I rarely feel adulatory.) (Unless I'm reading my heroine, Patry Francis's, prose.)
The book is set in the Missouri Ozark mountains, but the world they depict is a long way, culturally, if not geographically, from the world depicted in the last book I reported on, Houseboating in the Ozarks. Forrester's Ozarks are a scenic vacation waterland, where nature is unpredictably dangerous at times, but people are unfailingly helpful and polite. Woodrell's Ozarks are scenic, but are inhabited by poor white trash in danger of starving if their lethal relatives don't first kill them for violating a thieves' code of honor.
The book's narrator is a 16-year-old girl named "Ree Dolly." Yes, "Ree" is her first name and "Dolly" is her last name. (For some reason, many of the people who populate the hollows of the Ozarks depicted in this book tend to have last names that sound as if they should be first names. Besides the Dollys, there are the Miltons, the Arthurs, the Haslams and the Jessups, among others, crooks and outlaws, every one. Maybe it's the author's way of showing how unWASPish these hillbillies are; they even invert the WASPish practice of using last names as first names.)
I would call Woodrell a "flashy writer." His way with words made me stop and say, "Wow," at times, but then I realized that the story would have been better served if my attention had not been diverted to the words. He starts out by describing Ree's little hollow like this: "Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone."
His description of Ree a little later is: "Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellow dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again. She stood tall in combat boots, scarce at the waist but plenty through the arms and shoulders, a body made for loping after needs."
It's hard to argue that Woodrell should have used "dilapidated" instead of "halt haggard" to describe falling-down houses or that "her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again" isn't a good turn of phrase, but "abrupt green eyes?" What are those? And, "a body made for loping after needs?" What exactly is he saying? There is a difference between seasoning that makes the prose taste "just right," and dumping every spice in the cabinet into the pot. I began longing for a little bland before I had digested much of this book.
The plot of the book is fairly implausible. Ree's father, a gourmet meth chef, has disappeared after putting up the family home, such as it is, to secure his bond. Unless Ree finds him, she, her two younger brothers and her crazy mother, will be put out of house and home into the cold Ozark winter. She starts asking around and persists after being threatened, and beaten up (losing her teeth in the process.) Finally, the worst guys (it is misleading to call anyone the "bad guys," they're all "bad") relent and take Ree to see her father. With the help of a chainsaw, she secures the evidence she needs to save the house, getting enough extra money in the process to take care of her siblings so that she can realize her dream of joining the Army (although how she will pass the physical without teeth is not explained. Maybe they don't need teeth to eat K-rations.)
Many of the reviewers compare Woodrell to Cormac McCarthy, which is probably why I am not enamored with this book. I don't like McCarthy's work either. Not to say it isn't good writing; smarter people than me like this kind of stuff. I gave this book three stars out of five.