Rural noir—it’s a thing. Sometimes called country noir, hillbilly noir, or even “hick lit”, these are stories of everyday people and the struggles they face in the harsh realities of rural life. Often gritty and heart wrenching, these complex novels seek out the universal truths that connect our human experience, evoking a variety of emotions for the reader. Today, I am recommending a book that has become a classic of this writing style—Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell.
In the hills of the Ozarks, 16-year-old Ree Dolly dreams of escaping her poverty-stricken community where the only real opportunities are found in the business of ‘cooking crank’. Ree’s father, arrested on drug charges, bonds out of jail by using the family’s home as collateral, but he is nowhere to be found. His court date is fast approaching, and Ree sets out to find him—dead or alive—driven to save her two younger brothers and her mentally ill mother from eviction, and an even more impossible life. Ree discovers that the Dolly family’s extended criminal enterprise isn’t willing to talk about her father—and the more she pushes to find out the truth about what happened, she discovers the Dolly clan is willing to protect their own at any cost.
Woodrell’s novel exposes the brutal ugliness of crystal meth in rural America, the savage poverty that exists in these places, and the power of kinship over established law. Ree Dolly is an unforgettable heroine—both tough and tender, courageous and vulnerable—and completely believable. Woodrell’s writing is lyrical yet razor sharp in this compelling, haunting and bleak story. With only 193 pages, this short novel packs a punch that you won’t soon forget.
Check out Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell and other stories like it at the Sioux City Public Library.
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