Monday, September 5, 2016

61 Books: #42

The project: to read 61 books, of whatever sort—short, long; literature, schlock; prose, poetry: you name it—before December 4, 2016.

The first ten books can be seen here. The second ten are here. Nos. 21–41 are below this post.

42. Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone (2006) (9/4/16)
I'm inclined to say this book is sheer poetry—the language! incredible —but it's much more than that. The story is relatively simple: sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly, who lives with her crazy (as in checked out) mother and two young brothers in a holler in the Ozarks, learns that her father has used their house as collateral for jail bond and now is nowhere to be found. She has to find him, dead or alive, if she's going to keep the house, which of course she must. Simple, but also mythic: the hero's quest, and full of demons and dragons—in the form of a large extended family, where everybody's related to everybody else, many of them are crank cooks (like Ree's daddy), and not everybody's friendly, by any means.

Ree is a fully drawn character: "Brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellowed 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." In her private, alone time she listens through headphones to ambient sounds: of oceans, of streams, of tropical dawns. She dreams of joining the army as soon as she turns eighteen. She knows she must defend her fragile family.

The writing is like something carved into an ancient oak, gnarly, tough, beautiful.

"She sniffed the air like it might somehow have changed flavors and looked closely at the stone fencerow, touched the stones and hefted a few, held them to her face. . . . Those stones had probably been piled by direct ancestors and for a long while she tried to conjure their pioneer lives and think if she saw parts of their lives showing in her own. With her eyes closed she could call them near, see those olden Dolly kin who had so many bones that broke, broke and mended, broke and mended wrong, so they limped through life on the bad-mend bones for year upon year until falling dead in a single evening from something that sounded wet in the lungs. The men came to mind as mostly idle between nights of running wild or time in the pen, cooking moon and gathering around the spout, with ears chewed, fingers chopped, arms shot away, and no apologies grunted ever. The women came to mind bigger, closer, with their lonely eyes and homely yellow teeth, mouths clamped against smiles, working in the hot fields from can to can't, hands tattered rough as dry cobs, lips cracked all winter, a white dress for marrying, a black dress for burying, and Ree nodded yup. Yup."

And the dialogue as well, is musical and gritty and true. Here, Ree is teaching her young brothers how to shoot.
She held the shotgun, said, "This trigger shoots this barrel, this one shoots this one. There's hardly goin' to be any time ever when you need both barrels at once, but if what you got to shoot is somethin' big'n mean, pull 'em both and splatter the fuckin' thing. For these cans'n stuff, though, just shoot one barrel at a time."
     She started them both on the shotgun. She steadied their arms and guided their fingers on the trigger. Snow jumped where they shot and each blast rocked the shooter backwards.
     "You think you can't miss with a shotgun, but you can. You still gotta aim good."
     Harold said, "Holy cow, that's loud!"
     "Uh-huh, it is kind of, ain't it."
Despite the harshness of the life depicted in this book, there is also a holiness, a soft place in the middle where we know Ree, no matter what, will survive. And, we hope, thrive.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book, too. And I also loved this line of yours: "The writing is like something carved into an ancient oak, gnarly, tough, beautiful."

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