Daniel Woodrell coined the term “country noir,” and with Winter’s Bone he created a landmark work of country noir. Ree Dolly is the epitome of the tough-as-nails female protagonist that has become so recognizable to the genre.
Ree Dolly has a problem. Ree is a Dolly, a member of a sprawling, white trash crime family. Her dad is in the family business, a meth cook out on bail. He’s also out of pocket. And, unless he shows for court, his family loses the house he put up for the bail. Ree is already taking care of her two young brothers and a mom “medicated and lost to the present.” She’s just counting time until she’s old enough to join the army. But she can’t just let the house go.
Winter’s Bone is lyrically, evocatively written, and Woodrell makes you viscerally feel every bite of the ice, every punch as Ree marches her way in search of her dad through hills and hollers thick with her rotten kin. There are some questions you just don’t ask around Dollys.
It is a perfect country noir story. Being trapped by the expectations everyone seems to have for you based on who your kin are is a central theme to the genre. And the genre just about demands that indomitable protagonist.
That being said, I didn’t like it quite as much as his short story collection Outlaw Album. It didn’t quite explode into violence like it hinted it would, leaving me just a tiny tad bit disappointed. I am a little surprised Woodrell never wrote a sequel considering how it ends. I definitely need to keep digging into Woodrell’s back catalog. Oh, and finally watch the movie, now available with Amazon Prime.
4.5 of 5 Stars.