Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Ree Dolly lives up in the Ozark mountains. Everyone is related to everyone else and no one is a particularly good person. The whole area is known for meth and other drug trafficking and production. Ree takes care of her two younger brothers, and her mother, who has had a mental breakdown. She’s got a daddy, somewhere. She hasn’t seen him in a while.
One day a man comes to the house, a police officer actually, a sheriff. There’s snow everywhere and school has been shut down. Ree has food to make and chores to do, but the Sheriff insists on having a talk. Her father Jessop, put up the house and the land for his bail. If he doesn’t show for his court date, Ree and her family will lose their house and the timberland. Ree says she will find her father.
First, she starts asking questions of close family members, an uncle, some cousins. Then she goes further afield to ask more relations about her daddy. People start clamming up when she talks about it. People start looking at her with hard looks. She asks and asks. She gets beaten up at one point. She’s asking too many questions.
Someone does know where her daddy is though and she is going to find out, even if he’s dead.
What I liked
I’ve never read anything by Daniel. I do have to give him credit. He’s depicted this subculture very well. It’s a subculture of poverty and drugs. Everybody is hard. Everybody grows up before their time. No one is left innocent for long. There are ways practiced that have long since been abandoned by everyone else. It’s a place where your clan, your blood, means everything.
Part of the reason this is so great is because there are still places like this, yes, even in the United States. There are still places where you can go, but you probably shouldn’t. The people there do not welcome outsiders. They will never warm up to you. Maybe they’re incredibly religious, or maybe they’re a family that does some things that are somewhat illegal. It’s just a network you’re not going to get into. As you can imagine, the day-to-day operations of such a group would be hard to picture, hard to describe, looking at it from the outside. I think Daniel has done a wonderful job of creating this family, who lives in the hills, where everyone is just as rough as the dirt they walk on.
Ree is a strong character, although, she’s going down a path of ruin herself. Ree isn’t going to turn out much better than anyone else around her area, but you can certainly admire her for her tenacity to keep the family property and to take care of her family.
What I didn’t like
While the description of this subculture is interesting, it’s rather unfortunate that it exists. Imagine a cult; imagine a mafia; now, compare that to Ree’s family. They may not possess the same label, but it’s all very similar. Ree isn’t getting out. She’s never getting away from it. Her life is always going to be shaped by it. The clan she lives in would be very difficult to get away from. She’s been brainwashed into shutting up, rather than saying something about crime. She’s been brainwashed to partake of crime. We may call it family, but we all know we’re all a little brainwashed by our families. Like I said, Ree is going to turn out just the same as everyone else. There’s not much stopping it really.
This is a sad thing, when a person can never escape their immediate surroundings and way of life. If you live a somewhat normal life, you can reinvent yourself, but not Ree, not her brothers, not anyone else, who lives there in the mountains with her.
Blood runs thick in those hills.
Is your family a family that always puts family before anything else, even the law?
If your family was essentially a crime ring, do you think you would also be a criminal? Would you try to run?