In this issue:
Daniel Woodrell in Winter's Bone delves deeply into the brutality and the tenderness of people in a marginalized segment of our society. Deceit by James Siegel will inspire conspiracy theorists to be drawn to this book like flies to honey. The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos is a beautifully written and constructed crime novel
And Consider This: John Ehle's The Land Breakers, reissued in paperback offers a chance for new readers to discover this quiet, authoritative novelist
by Daniel Woodrell
Published by Little, Brown & Co., ©2006
Hardback, 193 pp
This little book is not easy for a tender-hearted reader to take. The depiction of the harsh lives of the poor in America’s southern mountains is vivid and accurate, and often heartbreaking. Daniel Woodrell does not, however, merely describe. He delves deeply into both the brutality and the tenderness of people in this marginalized segment of our society.
The poor in Appalachia and the Ozarks have long counted on illegal activities to sustain themselves, first with moonshine and then with growing marijuana, and nowadays with meth labs concealed in the forest. “Burning crank” is big business for them, often the only source of income for families trying to live on the thin, rocky soil of the mountain slopes.
Ree Dolly, a sixteen-year-old girl, is the de facto head of her household. Her mother, although physically present, has “gone ‘round the bend,” retreating to a second childhood. Jessup, her father, is out of jail on bond after being caught red-handed in his meth lab, but since his release, he has disappeared. It falls on Ree to take care of her two younger brothers and her mother, an undertaking she manages as well as she can, even as she dreams of escaping to join the army in search of a better life in a couple of years, when she turns eighteen.
A visit from the deputy sheriff informs her that Jessup has put up their house (an inheritance of his wife’s) as his bond. Unless he appears at his hearing, the bond will be forfeit, and Ree and her brothers and mother will have nowhere to go.
Ree knows that it is up to her to find Jessup, or at least to find his remains in order to prove that he is dead. If he’s dead, the bond is voided, and the property remains in the family.
Her perseverance and ingenuity in this quest are truly staggering as she faces down some very dangerous characters, and at one point is badly beaten. Along the way, we meet any number of unsavory people, and not a few good souls who do what they can to help.
But it is the indomitable Ree who is the hero of this book. What she must do to keep her home is terrifying and revolting and utterly believable. Her grit and sacrifice and family loyalty will wrench your heart. She is a character who will stay in your memory for a very long time.