Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Book recommendation: Winter’s Bone

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Dec• 12•17

Another fine sunrise this morning and continued dry, crisp weather. Tonight it’s going to freeze–oh happy days. I have allergies so a freeze kills off the abundant leaf mold that’s around here. My tree is installed and tonight I’m going to add the ornaments. Christmas baking has begun and a few gifts exchanged. Saturday night we went out to hear Confluence Chorus and their stirring harmonies and message of peace seemed to settle into the deepest, most worried parts of me. And despite these troubling and difficult times in our country, the beauty and  magic of Christmas is taking hold in me.

And speaking of Christmas, I have another book recommendation: Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. He’s one of my favorite authors and this is one of my favorite stories of all times. A desert island book. A top ten book.  Woodrell is a writer’s writer; that is, there’s something to learn and appreciate on every page.  It’s a gritty, compelling, and scary because the protagonist faces so much risk and jeopardy. And the antagonists are rawboned, mean types who will would shoot you dead without  blinking. Here’s a review from The New York Times that I wish I’d written.

The story also features one of my favorite characters Ree Dolly. In fact The Writer magazine asked me to list my 10 favorite protagonists and I included her: Ree Dolly (of Winter’s Bone) exhibits an unflinching loyalty to family and depths of strength in one so young. She struggles to uncover the truth of her father’s disappearance and save the family home, becoming matriarch to her siblings and mentally ill mother.

Woodrell usually writes about poor, desperate people who commit crimes and make lousy decisions. The story begins with a sheriff’s deputy showing up at the Dolly’s home in the Ozarks and informing sixteen-year-old Ree that her father has skipped bail and the family home was his collateral. She needs to find him so they won’t lose the house. And this puts her in the path of some really badass types most of us would leave town to avoid. Here are the opening lines:

REE DOLLY stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. Meat hung from trees across the creek. The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards. Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by snagged limbs, venison left to weather for two days and three nights so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.

By the way, the film, directed by Debra Granik,  is nearly as good as the book and Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes deliver stunning performances.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart


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