Last night with music from the Hank Mobley Quintet playing in the background, I finished Daniel Woodrell’s great novel Winter’s Bone. While the book is not classified as a mystery, the plot of the novel centers around a big one. Where’s Jessup? Jessup is the meth cooking father of the book’s central character, 16 year-old, Ree Dolly. Ree has a big problem, if her Pa doesn’t appear for a court date, Ree and her two brother’s, and Ma could lose their family home, which Jessup posted as collateral to make his bail. So Ree sets out, braving the bitter Ozark winter, searching the hills for her father. But many of the tight-lipped inter-related folks, who live in the hills, live on the wrong side of the law, and would rather fight than give up their secrets. But Ree needs to push on, for her home and the ones who are in her care, but will she be able to live with the answer??
Now I could go on and on about the wonderfully drawn-out characters in the book, from Uncle Teardrop to Ree’s Mom, and the various themes, but I want to focus on another aspect of the book and that is Woodrell’s prose.
I started reading Winter’s Bone (Book 12 of 2014)the day after I had finished Roy Peter Clark’s book How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times.(Book 11) Clark’s book focuses on the need to write short in today’s fast paced world, of Twitter, Facebook and the rest of social media. The book is filled with examples of short writing including; tattoos, advertising slogans, epitaphs and Tweets! The first Chapter is Collect Short Writing, which I had no problem doing while reading Winter’s Bone. Throughout the book, I marveled at how Woodrell packed so much punch, in so few words! My awe started with the book’s opening sentence….
Ree Dolly stood at the break of dawn on her cold front steps and smelled the coming flurries and saw meat.
So what did that sentence tell me. First, it’s morning, it’s cold, it’s going to snow and I’m somewhere meat hangs on trees, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more!!
Several of the examples of writing short that I noticed opened chapters….
She became ice as she walked.
The needed skill was silence.
Hillsides knit with ice came apart.
Then there were longer sentences that just blew me away….
A picnic of woods fell from Gail’s mouth to be gathered around and savored slowly
Ree waited kneeling for several minutes, kneeling as raised hopes fell to modest hopes,slight hopes, vague hopes, kneeling until any hope at all withered to none at all between her pressing hands.
I guess the question is would I have noticed these short gems, had not just read How to Write Short. probably not, so thank you Mr Clark!!
Summarizing, great book, full of unforgettable characters, and fine writing, read it!! If you do read, it be on the lookout for those powerful short sentences