The strength of Winter’s Bone lies in its simplicity. Ree Dolly is a girl from a community deep in the Ozarks where blood ties mean everything—or are supposed to—and the law isn’t trusted. She’s a mother to her two younger brothers, and to her own mother, who tumbled into madness some years before. Her father has vanished while out on bail, and the sheriff tells her that her house was posted as bond. If he doesn’t turn up, dead or alive, it goes to the county, and Ree and her family will be left homeless.
So begins an odyssey through the backwoods of Missouri, as Ree travels from house to house and town to town in search of answers. The Dolly bloodline flows into every corner of her world, but there are places where it runs too thin to protect her. The plot is spare, exposition flensed clean, resulting in an immediacy that further bolsters the comparisons with Cormac McCarthy, which were already inevitable from the subject matter and the writing style.
Woodrell’s prose is swift and lyrical, full of rich imagery that rises naturally from the words, rather than artful constructions of metaphor. At its best, it’s hallucinatory. though there were the odd passages that felt a bit overdone for me. One example: “a picnic of words fell from Gail’s mouth to be gathered around and savored slowly.” Such moments feel a bit self-consciously literary, but I’ll freely admit that my own writing could draw similar criticism, and probably does. Style is a matter of taste, and on the whole, Woodrell’s style is deft enough to earn its flourishes. It is not quite as transcendent as McCarthy’s but that’s a high bar to reach.