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Winter's Bone

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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.

193 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

Daniel Woodrell

22 books1,224 followers
Growing up in Missouri, seventy miles downriver from Hannibal, Mark Twain was handed to me early on, first or second grade, and captivated me for years, and forever, I reckon. Robert Louis Stevenson had his seasons with me just before my teens and I love him yet. There are too many others to mention, I suppose, but feel compelled to bring up Hemingway, James Agee, Flannery O'Connor, John McGahern, Knut Hamsun, Faulkner, George Mackay Brown, Tillie Olsen, W.S. Merwin, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Andrew Hudgins, Seamus Heaney, Derek Wolco.

Daniel Woodrell was born and now lives in the Missouri Ozarks. He left school and enlisted in the Marines the week he turned seventeen, received his bachelor's degree at age twenty-seven, graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, and spent a year on a Michener Fellowship. His five most recent novels were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and Tomato Red won the PEN West award for the novel in 1999. Winter's Bone is his eighth novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,108 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 24, 2018

this is pretty much why i read, to find a book like this amongst all the three-star so-so's. and it wasn't love at first sight (which might make the experience even better; i didn't love winesberg, ohio right out of the gate either) - i had some reservations from the first page, when the poetic quality of the language seemed forced and i wasn't going to deal with 200 pages of:
"three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside...", or "Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes..." but except for a few instances of striving-to-be-musical prose (heidi klum would say "we question your taste level" and brad becker would say "i'll taste her level"), this is utterly gorgeous, and is already on my mental hall of fame list.

of course it brings up a list of names in my head - they are unavoidable comparisons: ron rash, cormac mccarthy, castle freeman jr, - people who write about misbegotten people deep in the hard-lined appalachian/ozark regions without romanticizing the harsh realities of survival. but it's more than that. woodrell has created a sort of ozarkian godfather story with its unspoken rules about loyalty and power and family above all else where people live and die by deeply embedded codes of honor. even the supporting characters here speak volumes and any one of them could stand alone in their own novel.

but the action centers around sixteen-year old ree. she of the milk skin. and this character is, i think, what everyone is thinking they have found in that dragon-tattooed salander, who i found cartoonish. ree is a sixteen-year-old girl who is genuinely hard, not just clinically affectless. she is resourceful but not, god help us, plucky. she is pissed off but not in an anarchic teenaged way. she is no wide-eyed innocent, but she isn't psychotic, either. she's just a human surviving within her inherited power system, raising her two little brothers and caring for her mad mother, sacrificing her love and dignity without regret, but with necessary resignation. yet she does show emotion, even though it is a luxury in her situation. every scene she has with gail is understated, but packs an emotional wallop. (yeah, i know, i hate that expression and i'm not sure why i used it. blame the heat)

this is no morality tale, it is just a slice of a life that is happening, unsung, in america. it's too short a book for me to say much about without rooning it for everyone, but i loved it like crazy, and will have to get all his other, out of print, books into my hands...

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
February 2, 2022
Reading this book made me realize how sheltered my life has been. To me, Winter's Bone reads just like a nightmarish dystopia. To millions of people, apparently, it's life.

Ree Dolly is incredibly tough and hardened by life - much more than you'd expect from a sixteen-year-old girl.
"She could be beat with a garden rake and never cry and had proved that twice before Mamaw saw an unsmiling angel pointing from the treetops at dusk and quit the bottle. She would never cry where her tears might be seen and counted against her."
Unlike other lauded "tough" heroines in the recent literature, her toughness is not in the "leave me the hell alone" variety of Lisbeth Salander or grumpy variety of Katniss Everdeen. Ree is tough in the true survivor way. She has no other choice - she is the oldest child in the Ozarks "bred'n buttered" family of a crystal meth cook father and a mentally unstable near-catatonic mother, with nobody else to care for her two younger brothers. And now she is this close to losing the only thing they own - their home - to the bail bondsman, unless Ree can somehow prove that her allegedly bail-jumping father is dead. And that's not an easy thing to do when the world would rather have you shut up and not ask questions.
'Whatever are we to do about you, baby girl? Huh?'
'Kill me, I guess.'
'That idea has been said already. Got'ny other ones?'
'Help me. Ain't nobody said that idea yet, have they?'
But this short novel is not as much about Ree's quest to figure out what happened to her missing father - she and the reader already have a good idea what happened to Jessup Dolly - as it is about showing a fascinating albeit harrowing picture of the cruel, backwards, meth-ruled world of the Ozarks. Ree Dolly lives in a hostile, harsh, and unforgiving world that follows no law but its own. She is surrounded by distant kin members that make up the majority of this rural mountain community. But very soon she learns that blood ties do not always mean much, that there quite a few matters about which her neighbors and relatives would much rather remain tight-lipped. And they will not hesitate to do whatever they feel is necessary to silence the uncomfortable questions, even if they come from a teenage girl.

Ree is kind, smart, independent, competent, spirited, and resourceful. However, there is little future for her in this world besides meth-cooking or marry as "required by pregnancy." Ree has been harboring a dream of joining the Army "where you got to travel with a gun and they made everybody help keep things clean", where she finally, for the first time ever, can have "only her own concerns to tote." But we all know - as does Ree - that she has too much heart to do so, even if it means sacrificing her dreams for the sake of others who are her responsibility.

For men in Ree's world there seem to be two options - meth and prison. For women it's even less. There is obedience, loveless marriages, violence, and hard work.
"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."
The only thing that being a woman earns for you is that you probably won't be beaten half-dead and bloody by a man (unless he is "your" man, as Ree's little brother notes). But it's little consolation given that the women Ree meets do not lack viciousness. Misogyny is everywhere, and is viewed as a normal part of life. Nobody has much in this world, and women least of all. And if you are half-dead from a beating, and your uncle is about to raise mayhem, you, of course, will be the one to blame.
"Love and hate hold hands always so it made natural sense that they'd get confused by upset married folk in the wee hours once in a while and a nosebleed or bruised breast might result. But it just seemed proof that a great foulness was afoot in the world when a no-strings roll in the hay with a stranger led to chipped teeth or cigarette burns on the wrist."

I found it scarily disturbing that Ree has naturally absorbed and internalized the laws of this bleak harsh place. When we meet her, she has an unusually strong moral compass and stubbornness to a boot, but I wonder how long it's going to be before she cracks and submits to the ways of her surroundings. After all, she is also very lonely - with her mother pretty much checked out of this world, and her best friend trapped in a marriage with no love but a little baby, and Ree misses her so very very much.
In Ree's heart there was room for more. Any evening spent with Gail was like one of the yearning stories from her sleep was happening awake. Sharing the small simple parts of life with someone who stood tall in her feelings.
I hope she finds a way out, I hope she finds a way to keep her awesome self intact, I hope she succeeds in raising her brothers the way she wants to and not the way the society expects them to be. She is definitely strong enough for that, and I hope her spine is indeed made of steel. She will need it to survive.

Wonderful book with one of the best female characters I have seen in a while. It's rather bleak but at the same time has undertones of hope - rooted in Ree's stubborn refusal to give up. 4.5 stars, and feeling thankful that I live where I live - because I sure as hell would NOT be able to survive in Ree Dolly's world.
"I ain't leavin' you boys. Why do you think that?'
'We heard you once, talkin' 'bout the army and places we wouldn't be. Are you wantin' to leave us?'
'Naw. I'd get lost without the weight of you two on my back.'

Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
April 15, 2020
Houses above looked caught on the scraggly hillsides like crumbs in a beard and apt to fall as suddenly. They’d been there two or three lifetimes, though, and cascades of snow, mushes of rain, and huffing spring wind had tried to knock them loose and send them tumbling but never did. There were narrow footpaths wending all about the slopes between the trees, along the rock ledges, from house to house, and in better weather Ree thought Hawkfall looked sort of enchanted, if a place could be enchanted but not too friendly.

No idea why I waited more than ten years to read this powerful little book.

In Winter's Bone, the setting is its own character. This icy rural universe in the Ozarks comes to life on the page-- a living, breathing, violent thing, where snow and cold are as big a danger as the criminals and meth cooks who populate this isolated place. Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books of all time, uses its setting in a similar way. Creating a place that feels separate from the rest of humanity and allowing the characters to exist and interact in this bubble, wild and living by their own rules. I personally find it extremely effective.

In some ways, it makes this Southern Gothic read like a fairy tale. It truly feels like a separate universe— there’s no contemporary references, no mention of U.S. politics or pop culture — the characters exist in a world of their own. And, in this world, the Dolly family, "old blood", have their own mythos:
The big man and prophet who’d found messages from the Fist of Gods written on the entrails of a sparkling golden fish lured with prayer from a black river way east near the sea was Haslam, Fruit of Belief.

The story itself is a bit of True Grit, a bit of McCarthy and O'Connor, and, it occurred to me, what I should have been reading instead of attempting to read Where the Crawdads Sing. It's far more compelling and gritty. It's a harsh survival story in which a tough teenage girl (but realistically so; no cardboard cutouts here) attempts to find out why her father is missing and skipped bail before her family loses their home.

I loved Ree Dolly. She’s tough, hardened by the harsh realities of life in poverty, but not cold and aloof because of it. The warmth of her love for her brothers and her friend Gail cuts through the chill of the novel. She sets out to talk to higher members of the Dolly clan but, blood or not, this is a dangerous task. Someone knows what happened to her father and it seems they want it to stay hidden.

It's far more survival than it is mystery, though. This rural backcountry is rife with meth addiction, alcoholism and poverty. There are people willing to hurt others to keep their own secrets. And just living, day-by-day, is hard.

It is sometimes amazing what an author can pack into less than two hundred pages.

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Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book82k followers
November 25, 2022
In this crime thriller set in the Ozarks, 16-year-old Ree Dolly goes on a manhunt to locate her meth-cooking father, dead or alive. She needs to find him because he put their house up for collateral with the bailbondsmen, and he's due in court soon.

The Ozark atmosphere is convincing, Woodrell's prose is spare and poetic, and--most important of all--Ree Dolly is a great person to get to know. (I half hope--and half dread--that this may be the first in a series. I want to hear more of Ree, but I enjoyed this book so much I don't want an inferior sequel to spoil my experience).
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books971 followers
November 24, 2019
The movie is not without charm, but doesn’t come close to capturing the full scope of the novel’s bleak beauty. Family dynamics, an integral piece of the story, seem only hinted at on film. The movie’s stark, frost-bitten setting is represented only by bare branches and ski caps. In the book, you actually feel the wind chill and every degree below freezing. Most shockingly, the movie doesn’t feature a single fluff of snow.

Then there's the prose. No movie in the world can capture the perfection of Woodrell's writing. The words breathe life into hick characters far better than any Oscar-winning performance. We experience their thoughts, their desires, their unexpected prowess over language and internal articulation that are hidden subtextually in dialogue. It's practically Shakespearean how expertly Woodrell portrays low-class characters with high-class depth. They are significantly deeper than backwoods hillbillies who cook crank, but you wouldn’t know that from the movie. When you look at this story visually, there’s only flat stereotype. It’s the heart underneath that makes it come alive.

Finally, I’ll also praise Woodrell’s brevity. At a mere 200 pages, he delivers page-turning thrills with chiseled priorities. He characterizes his cast just enough so they leap off the page, he describes setting just enough so you feel you’re there. No more, no less. The surrounding mystery is introduced early and effectively carries the plot to its impeccable climax. I haven’t read more by Woodrell to know if he’s consistently this good, but even so, Winter’s Bone truly catches lightning in a bottle.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
April 18, 2020
An Angry Country

It’s difficult to imagine what encouraged the first English settlers to re-locate from their lives of drudgery in the Appalachian mountains to precisely the same lives of drudgery a thousand miles distant in the Ozark hills (mountains being a mere conceit). But move they did, with their traditions of inbreeding, moonshine and frontier violence.

The Ozarks, strectching over the corners of four US States, is a sort of American Kurdistan, an artificially divided country. The tourist brochures now describe the Ozarks as quaint. But this is a description that is apt neither for the gauche theme parks that celebrate an idyllic but fictional pioneer past, nor for the meth labs that have sprung up to replace the corn whiskey stills. In Winter’s Bone this is a lost country, pointing simultaneously to the origins of the real America and a not unlikely future.

Woodrell describes a world of neo-liberal, personal independence - every man for himself and God help the sap who asks for help - a real Jeffersonian agricultural democracy. The only significance of family relationship is that one isn’t shot on sight. This is a world of hyper-misogyny, permanently incipient violence, and drugs - lots of drugs as the primary cottage industry. Made in America has taken on a new significance. The pioneer spirit is alive and well: everyone else is a threat to personal independence; the greatest threat is law which is a blatant attempt to constrain individual freedoms.

Male bonding is proportionate to the frequency of joint illegal ventures. Contract, in the form of adherence to the ‘code,’ is King; penalties for non-performance are steep. Women, of course, only have the freedom to obey; they exist is a parallel universe of silent fear, maintaining what little social cohesion there is. Men don’t speak to them at all except to command; they have no capacity to make contracts, so they cajole and manipulate on the periphery.

Except for the iPods and the occasional paved road, things haven’t changed much in Woodrell’s Ozarkian culture over the last two hundred years. Same families, same feuds, same primitive responses to events - usually violent. The dialogue captures the mood as well as the mores:
“You ain’t here for trouble, are you? ’Cause one of my nephews is Buster Leroy, and didn’t he shoot your daddy one time?”
“Yes’m, but that ain’t got nothin’ to do with me. They settled all that theirselves, I think.”
“Shootin’ him likely settled it. What is it you want?”

The central social principle is staying off the grid in order to be left alone. No one has a right to interrupt a man’s nap, or his cooking of ‘crank’. If there’s no paper trail, you don’t exist. And if you don’t exist, it’s really difficult to find you much less prosecute you. So the details of births are undocumented; and there are only a few male names - prefaced by unique nicknames known only in the community - Thump Milton, Cotton Milton, Whoop Milton, and Blond Milton, all of the family Dolly, to name only a few. It’s easier to lose oneself that way. Identity after all is a sacred concept, so must be protected against intrusion and pollution by foreigners.

Cultural isolation has generated a unique mystical tradition of origin, that there existed a pure culture that has been lost in mysterious circumstances. The original settlers from Appalachia - the founding fathers - have been transformed into prophetic messengers proclaiming a new religion. The core of this religion is anger towards a hostile world. The reasons for the anger have been forgotten, except in the myths of origin, as a lack of faithfulness to tradition. The only real evidence of the past is the rubble left by previous generations, building stones strewn about ruined hillsides.

Anger in this culture has become virtually a genetic trait, passed down as a legacy. Without it, the natives have nothing in common, nothing to strive for. The anger is ultimately directed not at others but toward themselves, however. “You got to be ready to die every day—then you got a chance.” They hate themselves. Perhaps that’s why the migrated in the first place. The purpose of the drugs is not economic; their function is self-forgetting. The rest of the world is relevant only because it threatens the expression of their self-directed rage.

A symbolic microcosm of America in the age of Trump?

Postscript 26Nov18: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation...

Postscript 29Nov18: a little Ozark nostalgia: https://www.newsweek.com/video-confed...
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,978 followers
January 28, 2011
I grew up in a rural area with no shortage of poor rednecks so I thought I knew about country poverty, but the people I knew with their decayed farm houses and trailers lived like Donald Trump compared to the backwoods clan of hill folk in this book.

Ree Dolly is a 16-year old girl who dropped out of high school to take care of her crazy mother and two younger brothers. She lives in a remote part of the Ozarks where the only job opportunities are in crystal meth production. Ree plans on joining the army the second she’s old enough, and she’s trying to prepare her brothers to take care of themselves once she leaves.

Ree’s father, Jessup, hasn’t been home in weeks, but that’s nothing new so she isn’t concerned until a deputy shows up looking for him. Ree is shocked to learn that Jessup is out on bond and used their house as collateral. If he doesn’t show for his court date in a few days, Ree and her family will be homeless during a harsh winter. Ree has no choice but to start asking her extended family if they know where her father is, but this is dangerous because the closed mouth rednecks don’t like people asking questions, even if they’re kin. The only one who even kinda helps her is her crazy Uncle Teardrop who got half his head melted in a meth lab fire, and he’s not exactly reliable. Ree will soon figure out that her daddy got himself into big trouble with the family and looking for him will bring more of the same to her.

Daniel Woodrell created a stark portrait of rural poverty where shooting squirrels for supper and chopping wood for heat are still routine chores. Then he put a character you can’t help but love in the middle of it. Ree is smart and tough, but even rarer in her world, she’s managed to hang on to a sense of dignity. She has no illusions, but she isn’t cynical or cold either. She’s doing everything she can to protect her brothers and mother, and she has a touching relationship with her best friend Gail, who got pregnant and married a man she barely knows.

Short, but powerful, this a terrific novel with a heroine you won’t forget.
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews786 followers
January 15, 2016
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

This short novel has many things I enjoy in dark fiction – quirky, dysfunctional characters, a determined heroine struggling to survive and keep her family together, a bleak setting, a sense of hopelessness, people who pay the price for their bad choices. This is a quiet story that crept up on me slowly and haunted me for days afterward.

Actually, it terrified me and made me glad I grew up in New York City. Sure, there were shootings, muggings, carjackings, and stabbings. You just had to watch your back constantly and try to stay out of the dangerous neighborhoods. Once I was home and the six deadbolts locked, I felt safe.

16-year-old Ree Dolly has no sense of safety. Her mother is mentally ill and unable to care for her children, her dad has disappeared, her relatives are downright scary, and meth is a major source of the family’s income.

I have never been to the Ozarks and have no idea how accurately this story portrays the region and its inhabitants, though I’m sure these characters really exist somewhere.

What keeps me from giving a five-star rating, is the prose. At times, it felt overwritten, taking me out of the story. I also felt it was too brief, making the characters and relationships too remote. In the end, I wanted more than an empty, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews859 followers
August 15, 2017
My introduction to the fiction of Daniel Woodrell is Winter's Bone, and what a strong introduction. Published in 2006, it logs somewhere between a novella and short novel at only 45,883 words, but the remnants left behind conjure such a strong sense of environment and of a gritty female protagonist struggling to survive in that environment that I felt like I'd walked a mile in her shoes, in the snow, trucking water pails, both ways. The literary ambitions of the novel are impossible to tamper down, but rather than overwhelm the story or characters, the prose brings them into the light with both menace and wonder.

Set in Missouri, in the Rathlin Valley near the Arkansas state line, the story introduces sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly as her father Jessup, a gifted meth cook out on bond from his latest arrest, leaves home never to return. Ree assumes responsibility for what remains of the family: a scrappy ten-year-old half brother named Sonny, a sensitive eight-year-old brother named Harold and their mother Connie, an able-bodied invalid who's retreated into the world of her mind, casually referred to as "crazy" by the two hundred or so Dollys, Lockrums, Boshells, Tankerslys and Langans linked by blood or marriage and living in poverty within thirty miles of the valley.

A sheriff's deputy named Baskin pays a visit to Ree, delivering the boys from the spot where the school bus was halted by snow. Talking to John Law can be hazardous to one's health in the valley, but rather than ask Ree where her father has run off to, the deputy brings news that Ree's daddy put their ancestral home (on Mom's side, the Bromont side) as well as their timber acres up as collateral for his bond. If Jessup Dolly fails to turn up for his court date next week, the property will be sold by the county. Ree maintains her composure and assures Baskin that she'll find her father.

She'd start with Uncle Teardrop, though Uncle Teardrop scared her. He lived three miles down the creek but she walked on the railroad tracks. Snow covered the tracks and made humps over the rails and the twin humps guided her. She broke her own trail through the snow and booted the miles from her path. The morning sky was gray and crouching, the wind had snap and drew water to her eyes. She wore a green hooded sweatshirt and Mamaw's black coat. Ree nearly always wore a dress or skirt, but with combat boots, and the skirt this day was bluish plaid. Her knees kicked free of the plaid when she threw her long legs forward and stomped the snow.

Ree finds a sympathetic ear with her aunt Victoria, her favorite of all Dolly women short of Mom, but is told in no uncertain terms by her menacing uncle not to go looking for her father. Uncle Teardrop has been a meth cook longer than his younger brother but lost his ear and melted the left side of his back in a chemical mishap. Ignoring her uncle's warning, Ree proposes going to Hawkfall Valley to see if the crew her father was working with know something, but has her head yanked back by her uncle for emphasis. He gives his niece fifty dollars and another warning for Ree to stay close to the willows.

Climbing a ridge and crossing a meadow blanketed by snow, Ree arrives at the home of her best friend Gail Lockrum, who already has a four-month-old baby and a useless husband who'd rather be with his girlfriend. Ree recalls her father's girlfriend, a "kindy garden" teacher in town, and asks Gail if she can get the keys to her husband's truck to drive her there. The answer is no. Ree hitches a ride with the school bus driver and is dropped off in Hawkfall. The way people aren't talking to Ree convinces her that her father has been killed and no one wants to talk to her about it.

Ree is left with no alternative but to seek the help of Thump Milton, a Milton family patriarch and a terrifying grizzled coot. Ree waits in his yard for an hour before being turned out, notified by his wife that he knows everywhere Ree has been today and why she's here and to leave. Ree, who's talked about leaving the willows to join the army one day, receives an offer from Sonny's rapscallion father to take the boy in, with Uncle Teardrop taking Harold. Seeing no future for either of her brothers by abandoning them, Ree puts her life in Thump Milton's hands by returning to Hawkfall for another try at him. Ree has to be carried out.

The women of Rathlin Valley began crossing the creek to view her even as she lay in the tub. Sonya led Betsy and Caradoc Dolly's widow, Permelia, who owned the third house in the rank of three on the far bank, into the bathroom and closed the door on the paled waiting boys with their stricken faces. Ree lay with her good eye open a peep in water skimmed thinly with suds. The women stood in a cluster looking down at the colored bruises on milk skin, the lumped eye, the broken mouth. Their lips were tight and they shook their heads. Permelia, ancient but mobile, witness to a hundred wounds, said, "There's never no call to do a girl like that."

Word for word, Winter's Bone may be one of the finest novels that I've read. There's a harrowing precision to it. Woodrell has such a command of this landscape and the family trees populating it that he could've written a novel three or four times the length of this one. I'm glad he didn't. There isn't an indulgence to be found here. Instead of telling reader about what happened to characters or occurred between them in the past, he focuses on what they're feeling now. There's some trust there, but the prose is also strong enough to fill in those spaces. Then there's Ree Dolly, who Woodrell seems to respect enough to make the star attraction of every page.

While frosty bits gathered in her hair and on her shoulders she raised the volume of those ocean sounds. Ree needed often to inject herself with pleasant sounds, stab those sounds past the constant screeching, squalling hubbub regular life raised inside her spirit, poke those soothing sounds past that racket and down deep where her jittering soul paced on a stone slab on a gray room, agitated and endlessly provoked but yearning to hear something that might bring a moment's rest. The tapes had been given to Mom who already heard too many puzzling sounds and did not care to confront these, but Ree tried them and felt something unknot. She also favored The Sounds of Tranquil Streams, The Sounds of Tropical Dawn, and Alpine Dusk.

The more novels I read, I don't know if what marks a great character is an arc, but consistency. Ree is a rock that forces the stream around her to change course, not the other way around. She's kin to Mattie Ross of True Grit (also a teenager) in making up her mind and sticking to it. The forces that Woodrell puts in Ree's path are formidable and her vulnerability is palpable. The inner fortitude of the character and her extreme disorientation at changes taking place around her weren't entirely translated to screen, with Debra Granik adapting and directing a solid film version in 2010 that introduced audiences to Jennifer Lawrence and made her a star. The novel is a better movie.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,927 followers
December 26, 2015
Gets so close to a fourth star it can smell the new paint job. In fact the plot is totally 5 star – the motivations and machinations of all the characters make complete sense and are a real heartbreaker. The main character, 16 year old Ree Dolly, is great. In the movie, which I came across all of 4 years ago, she’s played by none other than Jennifer Lawrence in her first big role, and the movie and Jennifer both knocked me flat on my back then. It’s a must see. If any book was filmed exactly right it’s thisn.

What nearly defeats this chunk of hick lit is Daniel Woodrell’s prose style. He thinks he’s the new improved perfect blend of Annie Proulx, William Faulkner and maybe ole Cormac M and some others like that. He’s Mcproulkner or sumpin. Here's what I mean:

The world seemed huddled and hushed and her crunching steps cracked loud as ax whacks.

Little Arthur was a little-man mix of swagger and tongue, with a trailing history of deeds that vouched for his posture.

A picnic of words fell from Gail’s mouth to be gathered around and savoured slowly.

Here, Ree is given some real bad news:

There was a sound in Ree’s head like a world of zippers zipping shut, and a sudden tilt factor engaged every place she looked. The creek shifted heights in her eyes and swayed overhead floppy as snapped string, the houses beyond skinny as ribs and knotted together in bows, the sky spun upright like a blue plate set on edge to dry.

And here’s Ree being assaulted violently:

Ree felt her joints unglue, become loose, she was draining somehow, draining to the dirt, while black wings fling angles crossed her mind, and there were mutters of beasts uncaged from women and she was sunk to a moaning place, kicked into silence.

And later

All her aches were joined as a chorus to sing pain throughout her flesh and thoughts.

I’m sorry but this strongly reminds me of Doctor Johnson’s famous advice to writers:

Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

Maybe it’s a matter of taste but for me a lot of Mr Woodrell’s prose above verges on parody; it’s hideously overwrought and self consciously gorgeous. It strikes poses in every phrase. It has the same relationship to the compelling communication of sense and emotion that a catwalk model has to walking in a straight line.

About half of the entire short novel is given over to descriptions of the beautiful Ozarks :

Disappearing snow left the old tossed stones plain amidst the puny winter weeds and spreading muck. Some stones were stacked two high and some lay in close clusters with stunted oak growing from the narrow spaces between.

Not a field or creek or a snowflake passes by without it’s nailed to the page. If you like that you’ll love Winter’s Bone.

Such a shame, then. A great – really great – tale of loss and hard-won redemption amidst the vicious but ethical crank-cooks of the Ozarks was very nearly capsized by its mode of telling. If Daniel could only have dialled it down a notch or two.

Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,350 followers
January 29, 2015
It’s funny how my brain works. So this novel is about a strong teenage girl living in conditions of depressing destitution without a father, caring for her sibling(s) and her invalid mother, cooking for them, bathing them, getting them ready for school, and generally assuming a responsibility that far exceeds her years—she even hunts squirrel! Any of this sound familiar? Maybe I’m not the only one who was reminded of Katniss Everdeen, but what’s interesting is that both Everdeen and Ree Dolly, the protagonist of Winter’s Bone, are portrayed by the same actress in the film adaptations. So the question is, was I reminded of Everdeen because I thought first of Jennifer Lawrence? Or did I think of Everdeen because her character is legitimately similar to that of Dolly? I might never know, but I would expect the answer to also shed light on the elusive Ron Rash—Steve Holt conundrum.

Anyway, the character and situational similarities end there. Dolly has a sharp-shooting snark that Everdeen could only dream of.
“It don’t seem like you’ve got to try none, girl, smarty-mouth shit just flies out your yap anytime your yap falls open.”
In fact, it’s that smarty-mouth yap of hers that, while nearly getting her killed on occasion, is somehow related to her stubborn persistence that ensures her and her family’s survival over the long term—survival in spite of an extended family of drug runners who value their personal safety above kinship, and survival in the face of the unforgiving landscape of the frozen Ozarks. Put another way, Dolly’s little world makes District 12 seem like peaches and bubblegum. And yes, I realize that Everdeen has to duel to the death in an arena filled with poisonous jabberjays or whatever, but there is a strong sense of reality pervading Winter’s Bone that makes it far more bone chilling.

Speaking of bones, the imagery in this book is amazing: brittle bones of dead wildlife decaying on the cold ground, the cracking bones of one’s frozen fingers after exposure to the harsh winter air, rock hard bones from imagining Jennifer Lawrence with an archery bow. Ok, not that last one. But there are other bones here, real bones pertinent to the plot, bones the significance of which I cannot reveal.

For me, this could have been a five-star book. My only complaint is that it is actually too short. Besides all the excellent imagery, even the characters are amazing—especially the female ones—and the fact that their appearances in the novel are so brief just left me wanting more, more, more.

Winter in the Ozarks
↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑
(It is fucking cold.)
Oh, and by the way, this was my favorite film of 2010. What was at the time an excellent 5-star film I now see as an excellent 5-star film adaptation.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
March 12, 2012
Ree Dolly's father has jumped bail, leaving their home forfeit unless Ree can find him before his court date. Will she be able to find her father before she ends up homeless with her two brothers and insane mother?

First off, I have a confession to make. I live in rural Missouri and, therefore, some of the locations depicted in the story seem a lot like places I've driven through at a high rate of speed. Also, I've eaten squirrel on at least two occasions. Now, on to the meat of the review.

Winter's Bone is a lot more than I was expecting when I picked this book up. The terms "country noir" and "hick lit" have been thrown around to describe it so I had a picture in my mind of some kind of rural mystery. Winter's Bone is so much more than that. Daniel Woodrell's prose is something to behold, so much better than I was picturing when I picked up the book.

While the mysterious whereabouts of Ree's father are the central mystery of the book, the way of life of hillbilly crank dealers in the Ozarks is the real star of the show. Ree's quest for her father is an odyssey into a world of cooking meth, living in shacks or trailers, and eating whatever you can shoot. The backwoods life isn't pretty and Woodrell shows it warts and all.

Ree's a tough girl, confronting the worst the back country has to offer and never waivering in her search for her father. She goes through a lot of hell, taking care of her mother and brothers the entire time. She's not as tough as Lisbeth Salander but she more than holds her own.

I guess the highest compliment I can pay this book is that I'll be reading more Daniel Woodrell somewhere down the line. I'd give Winter's Bone a 4+.
Profile Image for Mandy.
320 reviews334 followers
October 17, 2016
Blood is thicker than water.

This book turned out way better than it started. I was going to rate it a 2 and then it turned around and picked up. A story of survival and family. A story about one girl's determination to find her father and clear her name so she could raise her brothers.

Not too shabby. A bit like Ma and Pa Kettle meets Deliverance if you catch my drift....
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews842 followers
October 14, 2012
Winter's Bone: Daniel Woodrell's Tale of When Blood is thicker than water

When I was a boy we had no Interstates. The car was not air-conditioned. A trip from Tuscaloosa to North Alabama was a twisting, turning drive through mountains and steep valleys as you drove into the northern part of the County. We traveled early to avoid the afternoon heat. The mists rose up from the valleys making the mountains look as though they grew out of clouds. My grandfather would comment on the smell of the working stills hidden in the country we passed through. Although prohibition had ended decades before, many counties, ruled by Bible thumping Southern Baptists and Methodists voted to keep their Counties free of liquor. That Jesus turned water into wine seemed to have little influence on them.

North of Tuscaloosa Co., Alabama

When I became a man and a career prosecutor, violation of the prohibited liquors statutes were few and far between. As time passed one drug after another became the most desired. But nothing compared to methamphetamine and it's staying power, and the growing volume of cases that crossed my desk.

I've met cookers, dealers and users. Users tell me that Meth gave them the greatest sex they ever had and they kept looking for the same big bang with each time they used.

I just can't get no satisfaction...Before and After on Meth

That land up north of the County is still there, though I usually bypass it by taking the Interstate now. And I can't remember the last time I was in a dry County. But that country up there sounds a lot like the setting of Winter's Bone. The people up that way are a lot a like, too. They don't talk much, especially if you're the Law or you work with the Law. I worked two killings where the bodies both ended up on the Tiger Mine Strip Pit Road. It's a God forsaken place. And by the time you find a crime scene, any car involved has been stripped and burned, and the blow flies and maggots and just about anything that walks crawls or flies has turned what was a living human being into a mess of stinking goo. That trick of putting Vick's in your nose works a little bit, but the smell of death gets into your hair, mustache, and clothes.

There's always the guilty and always the innocent. It's the innocents that got left behind that always worried me the most.

In the early Meth days, cookers hadn't got their chemistry down real well. It wasn't unusual that a cooker blew himself and his lab sky high. The place stunk to high Heaven. Not even we knew how dangerous the fumes were when we went into one of the places. But in my line of work you developed a black sense of humor. Dang. Another one got it wrong. No file to open. Breaks your heart, don't it. Yep. Sure does. Reckon he's playin' his harp. Naw. He's tunin' his fork.

After a meth lab explosion

Daniel Woodrell has written a book that I identify with on a number of levels. It's my first Woodrell. But it won't be the last. And I won't forget this book for a long, long time. Frankly, I didn't think I needed to read about a Meth cooker. However, by page four I realized Woodrell didn't care about the cooker anymore than I did. This is about the innocents that get left behind and how they must get by, if they manage to get by at all.

And this is when Woodrell hooked me:

"Walnuts were still falling when Ree saw him last. Walnuts were thumping to ground in the night like stalking footsteps of some large thing that never quite came into view, and Jessup had paced on this porch in a worried slouch, dented nose snuffling, lantern jaw smoked by beard, eyes uncertain and alarmed by each walnut thump. The darkness and those thumps out in the darkness seemed to keep him jumpy. He paced until a decision popped into his head, then started down the steps, going fast into the night before his mind could change. He said, 'Start lookin' for me soon as you see my face. 'Til then, don't even wonder."

In a few terse sentences, Daniel Woodrell has introduced you to Jessup Dolly. Dolly is telling his seventeen year old daughter, Ree, goodbye. Dolly is a man on the run. He's the best Meth cooker in the Missouri Ozarks. The law has caught up with him. Jessup has done one stretch in the pen. He doesn't want to do another. He's out on bond, putting up his family's home and timberland. He has a court appearance in a week. He doesn't tell his daughter they're going to lose their home.

Jessup leaves behind a wife, either insane or in an advancing stage of dementia, two boys, and his seventeen year old daughter Ree. When you're a meth cooker's daughter you grow up hard and you grow up fast. Ree left school at sixteen to care for her mother and two younger brothers, Sonny and Harold.

No gas for the chainsaw? Ree chops wood for the potbelly stove with the ease of a lumberjack. No food on the table? Ree can bark a squirrel flattened against a tree limb with a .22 bullet. She rarely misses. Ammunition costs money.

Ree's got plenty of family. Jessup's brother, Tear Drop, named for a penitentiary tattoo, the Miltons, and the Halsam's. Pretty much everybody is kin through some degree of marriage or cousins, removed by generation or not.

Ree is a woman in an adolescent's body. She has satisfied her sexual curiosity, exploring pleasure with her girl friend Gail Lockrum. She knows how to kiss, but is disappointed with her first kiss with a boy when she asks for his tongue and he responds, "Yuck." Her first experience is with a doper friend of her father, Little Arthur. He gave her mushrooms and told her it would make her sandwich taste much better. She feels all ooey gooey and wonders if she had only imagined it until she found her panties ripped. Yeah, a doper's daughter grows up hard and fast.

When the bondsman comes looking for Jessup at the house, he tells Ree Jessup Dolly had signed away their home and land. Ree is determined to find her father in the week she has before his court date.

On her search, Ree descends into the dark secrets of her Ozark people. Blood is not always thicker than water. Thump Milton, the patriarch of the Milton clan will not help her and tells her to abandon her search. Sonny Blond Milton's extent of help is to offer to take in her younger brother Sonny, but not Harold. Seems there was a reason for Sonny being named Sonny, born while Jessup was away in prison. Ree thought Sonny never looked that much like Daddy.

Winter swirls through the mountains and valleys of the Missouri Ozarks. Ree must take shelter in a cave. An Ozark snow storm will chill you to the bone. She realizes that either she must find her father alive or dead or her family may end up living in one of those caves.

You can feel the cold in Woodrell's prose.

Yet, even Uncle Tear Drop will not help her. He takes her to a cabin destroyed by fire, a meth lab destroyed by a cook's mistake. He tells her that Jessup died there. But there is no proof of death.

Something is terribly wrong. Kin doesn't kill kin except for thievin' and...No her Dad wouldn't ever do that.

Ree is a heroine, courageous, responsible, and willing to do anything to save her family. Her father must be dead, but she needs proof. As Ree is caught up in swirling violence, frankly, my Dears, I didn't give a damn if he was dead. The guilty always leave the innocent behind.

Daniel Woodrell knows the Missouri Ozarks. He was born there, grew up there, and lives near the Arkansas line still. Winter's Boneis his eighth novel. Five of his novels have been New York Times Notable Books of the Year. I've got some catching up to do. So, Mr. Woodrell, keep writing. I'm going to be gaining on you.

Daniel Woodrell's lastest book is The Outlaw Album: Stories
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,566 reviews1,894 followers
September 20, 2020
The blood feud world of the sagas in the contemporary Ozarks. Where once people got by through not asking questions and trading in moonshine they now struggle on by not asking questions, and dealing in drugs. The setting is modern rural poverty, but the attitudes and behaviours are redolent of the border reivers. Tough, violent and macho. Whether drugs and alcohol mellow the sharp edges, or simply precipitate the next clash is debatable.

One night when Ree was still a bantling Dad had gotten crossways with Buster Leroy Dolly and been shot in the chest clear out by Twin Forks River. He was electric on crank, thrilled to have been shot, and instead of driving to a doctor he drove thirty miles to West Table and the Tiny Spot Tavern to show his assembled buddies the glamorous bullet hole and the blood bubbling. He collapsed grinning and the drunks carried him to the town hospital and nobody thought he'd live to see noon until he did (p29)

But this is mere background, what made the book stand out is the language. The distinctive spoken idiom has its own rhythm that sits alongside a variety of authorial voices.

Ree followed a path made by prey up hill through scrub, across a bald knob and downhill into a section of pine trees and pine scent and that pious shade and silence pines create. Pine trees with low limbs spread over fresh snow made a stronger vault for the spirit than pews and pulpits ever could. She lingered. (p38)

I was carried away by the use of language and am annoyed that I can't find the passage in which Ree, our hero, walks up a snowy hill described in staccato words that become little feet kicking in and pushing the reader up the sharp slope. There was a film made from the book, it was ok as these things go, but to my surprise they made the ending of the film slightly less optimistic than the end of the book and added a scene in which the film-makers made the young woman who is the hero of this tale come across as mildly stupid.

This is a book with a simple story. A young woman needs to find her father or else the family home will be lost. However since not asking questions is the one commandment that governs this backwoods chunk of the USA, her quest is bound to lead her into trouble, and it does.
Profile Image for Beverly.
836 reviews315 followers
May 17, 2022
Scrappy, tough Ozark mt. girl endures brutality and deprivation to take care of her family.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,750 reviews1,268 followers
February 5, 2011
Horrendous, goopy, writers' workshop writing.

"Moons of ache glowed in spaces of her meat and when she moved the moons banged together and stunned." (Are sentences required to make sense in "contemporary fiction?")

"Moans droned from her chest of bones. Shit leaked from her panties and she felt runnels of yuck on her thighs." Channeling Dr. Seuss and Cormac McCarthy simultaneously: ambitious!

"She thrust her head into the cold and broadcast the hot mush of old swallowed food toward the snowbanks." Conjures up a Rush Limbaugh radio program, somehow. Was "catapulted" too literal?

The thought that instructors are actually encouraging soupy messes like this is dispiriting, and one wants now to read things that are cleansing, purifying, bracing tonics, literary enemas - Willa Cather, Sir Walter Scott, Jackie Collins, the minutes of the winter meeting of the Financial Accounting Standards Board.
Profile Image for D. Pow.
56 reviews249 followers
May 4, 2010
Man, O Man, can this guy write. This is a very impressive novel. Here is language that soars, home-spun lyricisms, trailer-trash poetry, a book chock-full of crackhead sonnet riffs; Woodrell is a virtuoso of the first degree.

In Ree Dolly, the teenage protagonist he has conjured up, he has invented somebody you'll remember gladly until your dying days. Fiercely courageous with a keen eye for the moral effrontery foisted on her small shoulders by kin close and distant, she is feisty as a stirred-up Wolverine and wiser than her elders by far. Instances of unsurpassed brutality and the banality of poverty vie with quiet moments of grace and communion with nature wherein Ree’s beat down body and unbeatable spirit serve as host to all that could be perceived as transcendent in this often unfair and fucked up world.

Loved the book. Love Woodrell. Loved Ree. Sheee-it, folks, read it for yourself and see. You’ll love it too.

Note: Thanks to Ben Harrison for recovering this review.
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
October 16, 2012


Beautifully written, this is a simple story about survival, winter and bones. The main thing to survive is poverty - the kind where buttonless overcoats are de rigueur, and hunting and skinning squirrels is not done strictly for entertainment. It's in the Ozarks and winter is bone-cracking cold. We open the book to a hint of flurries, and venison hanging in trees to "sweeten that meat to the bone", and we meet Ree Dolly, our tough teen heroine.

The title "Winter's Bone" for me summoned a cold, terrible image: blue, white, visceral, and hard. It is actually the perfect mental picture for this story. The real meaning is something quite different, but hey misunderstanding titles (and lyrics) is what I do.

Bones. Bones. Dem bones is everywhere. There's the 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". There's the fun bones, "Lust slaking to dance tunes, standing hip bone to hip bone, the new hands moving over her rumples and furls and tender knobs, hands good as tongues in the dark corners of those whiskey moments", and the tasty bones, "Soup stock from deer bones simmered on the stove and steamed a comforting scent."

Meth cooking is the main industry in these parts. It isn't all "let's party", and it isn't blue. But it is of the "I am the one who knocks" variety.

Sometimes safety at the workplace fails and everything blows, and the makeshift lab is no longer viable. "That shit's all poison, girl. Toxic. It'll eat the skin clean off your bones and wilt the bones, too. It'll turn your lungs to paper sacks and tear holes in 'em".

Towards the end, when Ree finds what she is looking for, I think there was a sort of failure of nerves on the part of the author. "Is my story too quietly grim", he seems to have asked himself, "or could it use some CSI graphic osteology, with chain saw and axe?"

I would much prefer the quietly grim over the sensational.

Really, all that's needed is a Hardscrabble Elegy.

Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
December 10, 2020
I did the unforgivable.

I saw the movie prior to reading the book.

I know, the shame.

The admirable strength of Ree held together not only her family but also this book.
Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.

It might be Jennifer Lawrence, but Ree does remind me of a harder, prouder Katnis.

Ree's father posted bail and ran off, leaving her to tend her young brothers and her disconnected mother. The house is in danger and the food is nearly out yet her back is stiff, her jaw is square. She will do what needs to be done, no matter the cost.

Audiobook Comments
Read by Emma Gavin and I was absolutely blown away. She was a fabulous reader.

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
June 16, 2015
This novella is a gem. It's tough yet emotional, scary yet empowering, stark and yet beautiful.

I have been meaning to read Winter's Bone for several years, but I kept putting it off because I thought it would be depressing. And while the story is bleak, it is so gorgeously written that I got lost in the prose.

The book is set in an impoverished region in southern Missouri called the Ozarks, where making meth is a popular way of earning a living. But 17-year-old Ree Dolly hopes to escape to the Army next year, if she can track down her Daddy. He's out on bond and has been gone for a while, and if she doesn't find him, she'll lose the family home.

Poor Ree. She's just a teenager, yet she has to make all of the adult decisions because her mother has gone crazy and her daddy skipped out. She's even taking care of her two younger brothers, teaching them how to cook, how to fight, and how to shoot.

Although friends advise her against it, Ree starts asking around to see if anyone can find her father. The more she asks, the more danger she finds. This is one of those stories where a happy ending seems impossible.

The movie version of this book with Jennifer Lawrence is well done, but I thought the book was much richer in detail and description. I highly recommend it.

Favorite Descriptions
"Mom sat in her chair beside the potbelly and the boys sat at the table eating what Ree fed them. Mom's morning pills turned her into a cat, a breathing thing that sat near heat and occasionally made a sound. Mom's chair was an old padded rocker that seldom rocked, and at odd instants she'd hum ill-matched snips of music, notes unrelated by melody or pitch. But for most of any day she was quiet and still, wearing a small lingering smile prompted by something vaguely nice going on inside her head. She was a Bromont, born to this house, and she'd once been pretty. Even as she was now, medicated and lost to the present, with hair she forgot to wash or brush and deep wrinkles growing on her face, you could see she'd once been as comely as any girl that ever danced barefoot across this tangled country of Ozark hills and hollers. Long, dark, and lovely she had been, in those days before her mind broke and the parts scattered and she let them go."

"Ree's grand hope was that these boys would not be dead to wonder by age twelve, dulled to life, empty of kindness, boiling with mean. So many Dolly kids were that way, ruined before they had chin hair, groomed to live outside square law and abide by the remorseless blood-soaked commandments that governed lives led outside square law."
Profile Image for RandomAnthony.
394 reviews110 followers
June 13, 2010
Ok, I read Winter's Bone on D and Karen's recommendations, so I’m posting links to their reviews before I start:




Winter’s Bone is a hell of a book in that A) the novel is fantastic, and B) it's set in an American version of hell. The story of Ree, a teenage girl charged with finding her bail-jumping father in order to save her family’s house, catches fire early and never cools down. Ree lives in a terrifying section of the Ozarks that takes on the character of a mythical underworld with its own set of unwritten codes and rules, of which the two most important are “don’t snitch” and “don’t steal”. This book made me want to never drive through the Ozarks again. Seriously. What if your car broke down? The characters in Winter’s Bone made the guys from Deliverance look like pussies. Ree must traverse this hellish landscape of tenacious loyalties and inbred family ties with the help of her baby-bound former best friend and a mutilated uncle flying on crank. Good luck with that, eh?

By the way, I’m not exaggerating when I describe this book as “mythical”. Three grim, violent sisters reminded me of the fates and furies. Other characters were monstrous sociopaths. Ree’s gripping journey has an epic quality; she’ll cross hell to preserve her brothers’ redemption and reclaim hope and dignity. Woodrell’s brilliant phrasing captures the dread winter in the kind of place where everyone knows each other and there’s no comfortable way to reconcile the idea that you share a country with the natives. He catches details that color in the lines of despair and unspoken unease. Ree’s resolve is all the more paradoxically human and superhuman for the surroundings.

This book checks in at less than 200 pages but feels complete and more than satisfying. Goddamn, I loved Winter’s Bone. Now I want to see the movie. I hope they don’t fuck it up. Mr. Woodrell’s sparse, muscular prose deserves all the praise and awards around its neck and a solid movie to match.

(Thanks, D. and Karen!)

Profile Image for James Thane.
Author 9 books6,944 followers
May 22, 2011
Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly lives for the day when she will be old enough to join the Army and escape the grinding economic and intellectual poverty of her life in the Missouri Ozarks where her extended family lives by a variety of illegal pursuits, mostly involving the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamines and crank cocaine. But Ree's dreams are shattered when her father, a celebrated meth chef, disappears, leaving Ree nearly penniless and responsible for her two younger brothers and her mentally-ill mother.

The situation becomes even worse when Ree discovers that, before disappearing, her father had posted bail using the family's house as collateral. If he fails to appear in court a week later, as will almost certainly be the case, Ree, her mother and brothers will lose everything. Ree thus embarks on a desperate search to find her father, dead or alive, before the court date. She is thwarted at almost every turn by her own relatives and by the code of silence that pervades the culture around her. And when Ree ignores repeated warnings to abandon her search, she pays a fearsome price.

Woodrell paints a vivid and heart-wrenching portrait of life in the Ozarks that has the ring of a desperate truth. In Ree Dolly, he has created a character that reminds one of Mattie Ross in Charles Portis's True Grit. But Ree's mission takes her into a much darker world that seems to have few redeeming features and very little hope. And unfortunately for Ree, Rooster Cogburn will not be riding to the rescue.
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,456 followers
February 1, 2012
I've put off writing a review for this book because I always struggle with the great ones and Woodrell's Winter's Bone is one of those (with a capital G). It's craft and heart and drama and beauty. It's poetry and grit, entangled in an embrace of love and hatred.

Woodrell offers up a stinging portrait of impoverished life in the Ozarks, where kin saves as often as it condemns. The hill people of Ree's world live by their own laws separate from that of the state -- of paramount importance, don't be a snitch and mind your own business. Bad things happen to anyone who talks too much or asks too many questions. Unfortunately, sixteen year old Ree has a lot of questions that need answering with only her to ask them. Left on her own to protect a shattered mother and two helpless kid brothers, Ree is desperate to uncover the whereabouts of her meth-making father. She must venture into the cold and ice and pass over hostile thresholds where she is neither invited nor wanted.

Ree’s fierceness and courage stole my heart. She ranks as one of my favorite literary characters OF ALL TIME. Her stubbornness and smart mouth made me smile as much as it made me fear for her safety. Ree has her own set of rules to live by that include, stepping in to do for her brothers where her parents have failed and “Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.” Ree is an old soul, mature beyond her years, forced to grow up fast and smart in a world that has teeth and a taste for blood.

This is a harsh story, one where the author pulls no punches. Woodrell is not out to romanticize this hill life or the hardscrabble characters living it. He wants us to see the ugly, to feel it in our bones, but for all of that there is tremendous beauty here as well, not just in the prose that SINGS but in the simplicity of a proud people who do what they must to survive in an environment that does not forgive weakness or stupidity lightly.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I am also going to recommend Kemper’s review here, because he does such a wonderful job capturing the book’s honesty and intensity. If I haven’t convinced you to read Winter’s Bone, he will.

***A note on the audio version: Outstanding! Emma Galvin captures Ree’s strength and vulnerability perfectly. Woodrell’s prose is so gorgeous it soars when read aloud.
Love and hate hold hands always so it made natural sense that they'd get confused by upset married folk in the wee hours once in a while and a nosebleed or bruised breast might result. But it just seemed proof that a great foulness was afoot in the world when a no-strings roll in the hay with a stranger led to chipped teeth or cigarette burns on the wrist. `Winter's Bone

Profile Image for Anthony Vacca.
423 reviews284 followers
April 25, 2015
For the most part, I am perfectly content to read books littered with despicable exemplars of our wonderful species. Give me your moral degenerates, your psychopathic wives, your misogynistic husbands, your bloodthirsty children, your lechers, repeat killers, serial adulterers, conmen, thieves, necrophiliacs, Christians—give me every last bit of your human refuge because I will gladly read about them over honest, good, hardworking men and women any day of the week. Why? Because good people are boring outside of the real world.

So it was a bit of a surprise to get knocked arse over teakettle off my high horse of arch cynicism by this mean, gaunt and big-hearted novel by Daniel Woodrell, the esteemed bard of anti-bucolicism in the Ozarks.

Winter’s Bone relates the story of 16-year old Ree Dolly and her quest to find her missing father—an all-around fuck-up who is good for one thing, and that is making meth—before he misses his court date and the gov’ment takes possession of the family’s house and land, which good ole dad was kind enough to put up so he could make bail and then split. Add a nearly catatonic mom and two younger brothers who completely rely on their older sis for survival, and you’d be kind of a cold bitch or bastard to not feel something for Ree. But what really got under my skin was seeing how obviously foiled Ree’s life and dreams already are at the age most of us think we got this whole life situation on lockdown. Woodrell brings to life the hollers and frozen wastelands of the novel’s setting, packed with their hundreds upon hundreds of kissing cousins that have been loafing about since for God knows how many generations now. Ree lives in a patriarchal shithole of a society that champions lifelessness, despair, violence, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse over education, happiness, and self-worth. And a poor economy is only somewhat to blame for these factors.

But Woodrell’s novel functions as more than just a condemnation of American backwoods life and the banal cruelty humans enact upon one another; it also offers something resembling hope to the reader, even if it is the meager chance that humans may actually be capable of caring about other people. And let the record show that Ree is a heroine to marvel over as you root for her to somehow come out on top by the end of this sparse, hauntingly-written Gothic yarn.
Profile Image for TK421.
561 reviews267 followers
August 28, 2011
A few authors over the course of the past few years have recently stood out above the normal, literary crowd—for me, anyways. And the thing I noticed about these authors is that they all seem to write darker fiction. If I had to say, a good representation of these authors is: Roberto Bolano, Cormac McCarthy, Castle Freeman, Jr., and now, Daniel Woodrell.

These authors make up a class of writers that I have termed Brutal Poets. Their use of language invokes a visceral response from the reader, sounds sometimes biblical or archaic, but never forced. The way they describe a landscape that mimics the inner feelings of characters is alarming and disorientating because of its precision and perfection. Basically, these authors seem to really know what it is that they are writing about.

Woodrell, a previous unknown to me before I saw the adaptation of his novel on DVD, is a master storyteller. Terse and sparse, his novel WINTER’S BONE is a punishing reward of a read. The story takes place over a few days in the Ozarks, Appalachia country. Ree Dolly needs to find Jessup, her daddy. He’s skipped out on court, and has put his house and acreage up for collateral for his bond. The problem is something isn’t right. He’s gone missing. And Ree begins to understand more about where she lives exactly, and who the people really are that populate her family and community. Characters like Thump and Uncle Teardrop and even Ree’s Mom add a depth to this story that brings it past a “missing-person” story or a “murder mystery.”

From the moment Ree takes it upon herself to find out the truth about her father, to the moment she has the emotional revelation at the end of the story with Uncle Teardrop, this bleak novel will keep you mesmerized, wanting to turn pages as fast as you can until you have reached the staggering and horrifying conclusion.

Don’t do this. Don’t ruin such a great experience by consuming it whole. Nibble at the book. Let your mind digest it. Savor it. Like a death row inmate being given their last meal, taste every juicy word on every page. Drink up every image and scene. There are plenty of other books out there to scarf down as fast as you can. Not this one.

Warning: be prepared. Oftentimes there are bleak moments like when Ree is beaten by the Milton sisters, and presented in a barn to Thump. When Ree comes to, she and a girl named Megan exchange these words:

Megan squatted, patted Ree’s face, and said, “Whatever are we to do about you, baby girl? Huh?”

“Kill me, I guess.”

“That idea has been said already. Got’ny other ones?”

“Help me. Ain’t nobody said that idea yet, have they?”

This scene still makes my flesh get goose bumps.

Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews555 followers
June 28, 2016
Icy, dark, beautiful, and brutal. Ive rarely hurt for and hoped for a character as much as I did Ree. Sweet Pea, for all time.

The main character here is written as tough and tender and backed into a hard place, and it is terrific to see a strong female protagonist in a work of Southern grit lit. Ree is a bright teen living in poverty but who sees a sensible way out of the awful lifestyle that her parents have accepted.

As her plans start to gel, a family emergency pops up, and there are no adults who can manage the crisis. Although she can carry on with her own plans, instead she chooses to stare danger in the face and take heroic action. If she does not take the risks she does, her siblings and mentally incapable mother will suffer.

What is so amazing about Daniel Woodrell's writing - his stuff is very gritty, super southern noir -is that he steps seamlessly inside his female protagonists to look out from their eyes. In Tomato Red, there are two tough cookies - a mom & her maybe 19 year old daughter. As he does here with the girl named Ree, Woodrell speaks for them with incredible skill. So very rare for somebody to write both genders so well.

There is nothing smiley-faced or sunshiney about this novel. The descriptions of blighted characters, stark country side, and danger are phenomenal - but it is the sweetness this girl feels for her loved ones and her courage that will make you root for her. If you loved the fictional girls called Scout or Swede or Swan, then this is the powerful teenager she could have grown into if her upbringing were as harsh. Loved this book. 5 stars and on my favorites shelf.
Profile Image for Char.
1,682 reviews1,557 followers
December 14, 2018
I'm not feeling like a full review today so I'll limit this to only a few comments.

*The Ozarks in which this book takes place seem to have nothing in common with the OZARK Netflix show.

*I have no doubt in my mind that life in some areas of the Ozarks is as brutal as it's depicted in this book. Poverty, drug use, tight family units, and long-held multi-generational grudges are just part of the miserable lives examined here.

*I couldn't help but feel for 16 year old Ree who just wanted to join the army and get the hell out of there. Due to her mother's mental illness and her two young siblings, her hands were tied. It's hard to escape family.

*I thought this book was savage with sharp, vivid prose-sometimes so sharp it stabbed me right in the heart.

*I enjoyed WINTER'S BONE, as much as one can enjoy a story this violent and merciless. I look forward to sampling more of Daniel Woodrell's work in the future.

*Recommended for those with the wherewithal to stomach the brutalities of this rural, mountain life. You have been warned!
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
October 27, 2020
Amazing and grim 2010 book that was almost immediately made into a highly successful film I love starring Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. I read it for the first time this week and was just awed by it. Set in the Ozarks during the crazy rise of crank, or crystal meth, it is in one sense a fairly straightforward coming-of-age book featuring 16-year-old Ree Dolly and in another sense a tale of an off-the-grid American culture steeped in ancient history. Ree's mother is debilitated by severe mental illness, her Dad is a crank cook, latrly out of prison, still gone most of the time, leaving Ree to feed and raise her twin little brothers and take care of her ma.

“Ree, 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.”

Of Ma: “Long, dark, and lovely she had been, in those days before her mind broke and the parts scattered and she let them go.” It's a kind of metaphor for the rural region itself, always poor, now spiraling into accelerating into decay more quickly with the infusion of drugs.

“This floor, here? I remember when this floor here used to get to jumpin' like a fuckin' bunny from all the dancin'. Everybody dancin' around all night, stoned out of their minds - and it always was the happy kind of stoned back then.”

There is basically no money for Ree to draw from, though there is a thin but stable friend network, and the family claim that "everyone is related to everyone else" that has for centuries been a sign of cultural stability is being stretched by the attendant drug-related violence I also just read about in No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy and am reading about in Deacon King Kong by James McBride: When this country turned from booze and pot to hard drugs the fists and knives turned murderously to guns and bigger guns. This crisis takes no prisoners and we are still very much in it in 2020, with no sign of relief.

The basic plot turns on the news that Ree's father, Jessup, in order to bond out of jail, has put his house and property up to cover the cost, and the county sheriff's office has come to tell Ree they'll lose the house in a month if Dad doesn't show up. So she goes from house to house, family to family, to find her father, which lends the air of mystery to the cultural/economic portrait. It feels as simple and bleak and inexorable as McCarthy's The Road, another lost "road" apocalypse book.

Being a Dolly, Ree calls on all Dollys to help her, but things may have changed in the light of all the devastation from crank. What is loyalty and family now? It feels like the Yeats lines from "The Second Coming":

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

“The Dolly's around here can't be seen to coddle a snitch's family--that's always been our way. We're old blood, us people, and our ways was set firm long before hot shot baby Jesus ever even burped milk'n sh*& yellow.”

Yet Woodrell, while never romanticizing, loves this place of haunted, lost beauty, infusing this world with such anguished lyricism in places to make your heart break. And the courage of Ree, yes, we love her, but it's not in the least happy, just a tale of white knuckle survival bathed in poetry.

“The going sun chucked a vast spread of red behind the ridgeline. A horizon of red light parsed into shafts by standing trees to throw pink in streaks across the valley snow.”
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