I recently succumbed to the hype, and picked up a copy of Daniel Woodrell's "Winter's Bone". The author's eighth novel tracks the progress of teenager Ree Dolly as she simultaneously tries to contend with the raising of her two younger brothers, the caretaking of her addled mother, and the disappearance of her meth-cooking father. "Winter's Bone" was recently adapted as a film, and received The Best Picture award at Sundance. Ordinarily that fact wouldn't compel me to pick up a copy, but it was on my radar due to Amazon recommendations and I came across it cheap at Half Priced Books.
My overall impression of the work is that it is competently written, but ultimately slight. Its less than 200 pages seemed insufficient for a substantial examination of the forces that have led young Ree to her desperate plight. She is tasked with tramping throughout the hollers of the Ozarks in order to clear the mystery of her absentee Dad, and in the process must confront a rogue's gallery of menacing distant cousins and other unsavory characters.
No doubt the reader is supposed to feel a large amount of sympathy for this young woman in her struggles. She does indeed have to face a gauntlet of troubling, and sometimes loathsome, encounters with the living embodiments of redneck stereotypes. And if you weren't completely aware of the type of havoc that the consumption and trafficking of crystal meth can wreak, you surely must be by the time you finish this book. However Woodrell doesn't quite go deep enough into any of the characters to leave a lasting emotional response. I finished the book rapidly, but felt fairly empty at its conclusion.
My experience with "Winter's Bone" is not enough to forever put me off of Woodrells' future output. I can definitely discern a potential for exposing the true terror of the horrid conditions when you mix brain-scrambling drugs with poverty in isolated circumstances. When you add in a Hatfield vs. McCoy mentality... you surely create an untenable (and highly dramatic) situation. Woodrell certainly has the talent to make stories from such settings come alive. I just want a little more from this type of read.