Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell
(New York: Back Bay Books, 2007)
"The sheriff's deputy at the front door brings hard news to Ree Dolly. Her 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.
"Ree's father has disappeared before. The Dolly clan has worked the shadowy side of the law for generations, and arrests (and attempts to avoid them) are part of life in Rathlin Valley. But the house is all they have, and Ree's father would never forfeit it to the bond company unless something awful happened. With two young brothers depending on her and a mother who's entered a kind of second childhood, Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive, or else see her family turned out into the unforgiving cold.
"Sixteen-year-old Ree, who has grown up in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. She perseveres past obstacles of every kind and finally confronts the top figures in the family's hierarchy.
"Along the way to a shocking revelation, Ree discovers unexpected depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost."
"Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. "
This was a Winter's Bone day. It's a short book, and I read it all on my Kindle today -- part in my apartment after polishing off the less-than-satisfying An Inconvenient Woman, and most at the Summer Arts Festival in Copley Square while waiting for the Low Anthem set. (I'd hoped to stick around for Suzanne Vega but the weather had other plans.)
Another review I found online while looking for a synopsis to steal called Woodrell's use of language "spare and judicious," which seems pretty accurate. If you've seen the acclaimed indie movie, it actually follows the book pretty closely (except for having changed Ree's youngest sibling to a sister, which hardly matters). If anything, the movie depicts a slightly-less-hardscrabble home for Ree and her family than I'd envisioned, though the relatives' homes are pretty much as I'd pictured them. I'm not sure whether to think depiction of the rural, southern Missouri Ozarks setting is too over-the-top (again, in a spare and judicious way), or if I'm just too sheltered here on the east coast, and there really is that big a difference between central New York-style Appalachia and the Central South/ Ozark variety.
Then again, I remember driving a short 20 minutes into the backcountry with Mr. Hazel a few years ago for a hike in a state forest, and being stunned just at the shanties I could see from the road and the fact that this particular flavor of poverty existed so close to my own, smug-college-town backyard. In other words, strike the question about whether there are really Ozark communities this poor and off-grid, because there probably are.
Anyway, a good book and a good movie. I'd recommend both, if you're up for something more than a little on the dark and gritty side and aren't looking for a magical happy ending.