Friday, November 18, 2011
Winter's Bone - Under the Microscope
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There are good books, there are great books, and then there are those brilliant books that set your hair on fire. And Winter's Bone is a remarkable achievement in human combustion.
How to describe this book? It's a bit like what would happen if Cormac McCarthy decided to write a modern version of True Grit. Cormac didn't, but (luckily) Daniel Woodrell did.
Woodrell calls this a Country Noir - and I love this. Is it entirely accurate? Who knows. But it's an evocative description for a little niche genre of literature. I think you could fit a fair bit of McCarthy's writing in this genre, as well as writers like Ron Rash and Matthew F. Jones. What happens if you take literary crime out of urban cities and chart its progress across the rural poor of backwater towns and deep country? Country Noir.
And Winter's Bone hits every right button possible. A young, complex, and true heroine in search of her father... so that he can turn himself in to the law, so that their house isn't taken from them? Check. A dark and gritty story of crime and drugs and the odd loyalties of family? Check. And searing prose? Check check check. As a lover of pitchperfect sentences, let me tell you that this novel has more than a few. There's something truly perfect about the writing in this book. A few examples:
1. "Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. Meat hung from trees across the creek. The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards. 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."
2. "He ran his eyes into her like a serpent down a hole, made her feel his slither in her heart and guts, made her tremble."
3. "Coyotes howled past dawn, howled from far crags and ridges and down the valley to the end of the rut road where the school bus stopped. Ree, Sonny, and Harold stood next to the county blacktop that led everywhere, beside white levees the plows had built with scraped-aside snow. The morning was clear but bone-cracking cold, and maybe the weather had kept those coyotes from doing what had to be done in the night so they carried on into the day. Wild crooning yips and moans beneath a sun that warmed nothing."
There are books you read and love, and there are books that haunt you, that seep into your head and won't leave you alone. Winter's Bone is one of these.