Saturday, June 03, 2006

Even for those, myself included, who believe there is no better writer of contemporary writer of crime fiction than Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone exceeds expectations. From the very first sentence- “Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat.”- you know you’re in for something special. With a poetic and hard-edged prose style, Woodrell’s narratives are the stuff from which nightmares are made. Perhaps the quality of the writing derives from the fact Woodrell has only published seven novels over the last twenty years, resulting in writing that remains fresh and interesting, both for reader as well as writer. Certainly his work has grown in stature as it becomes increasingly locked into the intricacies of Ozark culture. Even better than the excellent Tomato Red and The Death of Sweet Mister, and just as unrelenting as Woe to Live On, Winter’s Bone follows Ree, who, at sixteen, must look after her two younger brothers and a demented mother. During a snowbound winter, Ree’s father, a local crank manufacturer, is arrested, and puts up the family home for bail. Failure to appear in court means the family will become homeless. Ree’s search for her father sets off a local feud in a place where practically everyone is related; violence, paranoia and secrecy are rife; and practically everyone exists outside the law. Ree turns out to be one of the toughest and most unrelenting sixteen year olds one is likely to come across. With its narrative moving, like a winter storm, from dark to darker, Winter’s Bone is the best crime novel I’ve read for ages, and comes at a when when I was beginning to lose faith in the genre. My only reservation is that, at the end, there is a suggestion that there will be future novels featuring Ree. Though I would have preferred Winter’s Bone as a stand alone, if they are as good as this, I’m not going to complain.

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