Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Read the Book First

I rarely go to see movies in the theater or even rent them for viewing at home. But I had heard such good things about the movie “Winter’s Bone” (which won some awards at the Sundance Film Festival and was shown at Cannes this year) that I decided to access it through its original medium: the book by Daniel Woodrell.

Let me jump to the conclusion: Every book group should read this book. It is short (193 undersized pages) and I guarantee that your group will have a long and very spirited discussion. I will go even further and say: don't read this book alone because you surely will want to discuss it when you finish.

The setting: Winter in the Ozarks

The set-up: Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly has dropped out of high-school to care for her two younger brothers and her mother whose mind long ago succumbed to the effects of life or drugs or both. If that isn’t hard enough, her father Jessup has disappeared just before an upcoming court date for his latest drug offence. If he doesn’t show up, Ree and family will lose their house that Jessup had posted as security for his bail bond.

The story: Ree’s search for her father

Especially for those of us outside of Missouri, this is a view into the crystal meth culture and rural clan life that are largely hidden. The language is rich, the descriptions of the natural surroundings vivid, the characters memorable, the relationships confounding. Life there is raw and violent but forms of love and loyalty will not be denied. There is so much to savor. The author’s artistry and economy of language are at times breathtaking. There are scenes and sentiments here that will stay with me for a long time. I think that I will just have to read it again.

Woodrell’s own life story is compelling. He was born in the Ozarks, dropped out of high school to join the Marines…and ten years later had an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

I hope you haven’t seen the movie. Read the book first.

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