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September 27, 2010

Winter's Bone Book Chat

Today's book club chitchat is Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell.

Usually I loathe books with colloquial dialogue. In my prejudiced and irritable opinion, I think colloquialisms are most often used to paint Southern characters and I hate it, Southerners don't talk that way. I'm extremely defensive on this point because although I took years of voice and diction classes to get rid of my twang, I am still country and can still speak Southern. But we don't talk like most authors portray us. You'd be surprised.

So all of that is to explain that I am not disposed to liking books with slang and colloquialisms, and this one is full of them. I bought Winter's Bone on the recommendation of one of the folks at the Mystery Bookstore in Santa Monica a few years back and it sat on my shelf until June when I found myself in need of a good read. I almost put it down after a few pages of slangy regional dialogue but I'm glad I kept reading -- since first reading this book I have recommended or given it out to everyone I know. I LOVE THIS BOOK. I want everyone I know to read this book.

What almost put me off this book happens right on page 5:


"I'm cold," he said. He rubbed his smarting ear. "Is grits all we got?"

"Butter 'em more. There's still a tat of butter."

I never heard anyone have a "tat" of butter.

Luckily I kept reading. This book made me think about my personal ideas of regional dialogue, too. For example, I'd guess not many Missouri Ozark schoolchildren grow up saying Laissez les bons temps rouler. But that was the phrase splashed across the cover of my 8th grade yearbook. Cajun is one thing, Southern is another, and perhaps Ozark is a different world. Maybe I am not as knowledgeable of Ozark lingo as I imagine. It took me down a needed peg.

Once I backed off the slang thing I saw the genuine love this writer has for his characters. That speaks to me in any dialect. I can't help falling for a writer who feels true affection and empathy for his characters. Woodrell's care for his characters made me feel like I knew them, grew up with them, lived next door to them.

Ree felt very alive to me. Young women carry the burden sometimes in families, it's not unusual to be the full-time babysitter when you're 10 or 11 or 12. And I know this book is cast as a mystery but it's also a character study. Ree is a new American girl, sturdy and determined and not above taking a joint when offered. Doing what has to be done the best you can. All you can do is your best.

I could not put this book down! The moment it ended I wanted to read it again but I had loaned it out -- so I saw the movie version in an art-house theater in the Valley. Usually a movie version of a book I love just lets me down but this one was true to the feeling of the novel, especially the scene where Uncle Teardrop and Ree met up with the policeman.

Ree slid her fingers toward the shotgun, thinking, This was how sudden things happened that haunted forever.

I loved this book because I understand that girl, the one who will do anything it takes to keep it together. By the end of the book I couldn't even see the colloquialisms anymore, the whole countryside had been painted so clearly that I was right there in the mud, in the cold, in the damp. The story stayed with me long after I put the book down.

It also has what I think is a perfect ending. To me, the best ending solves the central mystery but leaves enough of the story open-ended so that the characters can live on in your imagination after the book ends. In Winter's Bone you learn the fate of Ree's father, though not so tidy that you have it all wrapped with a bow (I liked that Teardrop had a moment of recognition and didn't say who exactly he recognized). And the character of Ree lives on past the last page. To write a good book is one thing, to write a great ending is another. I was not disappointed. Were you?

So what did you think? (Hey, if you hated it I want to know. And why.) Did the language put you off or make you feel more drawn to the characters? Do you think Ree is realistic or unbelievable? Were you surprised that meth was so prominent in the storyline? Was it weird that the family was so clannish and closed-off? (My main critique of the story is that I thought the family barriers were odd an unrealistic, in the South at least we don't do things that way. Blood is blood. I can't imagine Ozark families being that much different but perhaps they are.)

What did you think of the relationship between Ree and Uncle Teardrop? Ree and Gail? When Ree is back home after the beating, were you surprised how the family showed up, all with little prescription bottles? What about the scene in the woods with Ree and her mom? What did you think of the ending?

Good or bad or indifferent I am so excited to hear what you have to say. Let's chat!

OH! And one lucky commenter will be chosen at random to win an awesome little prize with some yarn from my stash (it's a funemployment prize!) plus a copy of Drew's new book Crochet It. Love It. Wear It!.

AND if all that werten't grand enough, the winner will also receive a FIFTY DOLLAR gift certificate to use at The Fiber Cooperative. Check out their website, thefibercooperative.com. It's a monthly curated online market with the goal of connecting indie fiber shops too small to do major advertising with avid knitters, spinners and fiber fans who are looking for the fresh, unique products that indie shops offer (without having to sort through millions of pages on etsy to find the gems that stand out). The Fiber Cooperative generously gifted our book club with this prize, so I hope you'll check out the site and think of them next time you make a yarn purchase!

Posted by laurie at September 27, 2010 8:32 AM