Or how I rolled up two posts into one* - both Sunday Scribblings and my book report for Patry's Third Day Book Club (hosted this month, by Tara at her Paris Parfait blog). Check out these links to find the other participating bloggers.
*Brought to you tonight, due to the constraints of a shared computer (and frankly, my own desire for one day where I'm not on the computer - it's been at least 33 days now, since I had one of those).
In the last hour, I finished Daniel Woodrell's stunning novel, Winter's Bone," having just picked it up this afternoon for the first time. Granted, I knew the hour was drawing near, when I had promised to blog about it and it was a short novel, but it was one of the quickest reads I've had in a long time - and that was mainly thanks to the author. In the last hour, I've been on an emotional roller coaster with this novel, turning page after page, till I finished it.
For those of you who haven't read the book yet, here is the premise of the story. It revolves around Ree Dolly, a sixteen year old girl in the rural Ozarks, with a determination to rise above the situation she's been born into - to join the Army as soon as she's old enough; to not get pregnant and be forced to marry at a young age with a baby attached to her, as her best friend has been forced by her family to do.
Ree's father is one of many in the area (in the story, at least), who make their money, by making crack. In fact, it's pretty much the family business - his brother, father, extended family members are all in the biz. He's done time for it before, and the last time he was caught, he posted a bond for his court date by putting up the house deed, without teling his family. As the story begins, he's gone off on one of his wandering trips, promising to be "back soon with a paper sack of cash and a trunkload of delights" for his feast or famine family. This doesn't seem so unusual to Ree, till the sheriff drops by (acting in a somewhat avuncular manner), mentioning to her the circumstances of his bail, and the fact that, with his court date fast approaching, no one's heard from him in town lately either.
So begins Ree's quest to find her father, in whatever condition he may be in, wherever he may be. She's the primary caretaker of her two younger brothers, since her mother has been "medicated and lost to the present," as she sits constantly in her rocking chair: "her morning pills turned her into a cat, a breathing thing that sat near heat and occasionally made a sound." (I have to say, since the mother had to have gotten such medication from some sort of mental health clinic, I did wonder where any social workers and Child Protective Services might be, but not being familiar with Missouri's particular social services infrastructure, and given the extremely rural area, I was willing to suspend any disbelief for the sake of the story.)
A story that took many twists and turns. I know the subject matter may sound depressing, but ultimately it was one of triumph over circumstances. Who among us has the choice of who we are born to? Tempting though it may be to think we would have the willpower to rise out of any poverty-stricken, drug-ridden family situation we might be born to - after all, many do - not every person has the same disposition. As shown in the story, with Ree's younger brothers. At one point in the story, Ree is showing them how to hunt squirrels, and later to clean them, as she fears they may be forced to fend for themselves soon. The elder of the two brothers, Sonny, has no problem with this; however, Harold, the younger brother, asserts "I ain't scared to do it, I just don't want to do it." (I must admit, I identified a bit with Harold; I skimmed through this section pretty quickly - since it reminded me a little too much of a situation involving a great-aunt, an axe and a chicken - ending badly, with a certain person getting the switch for refusing to come down from the apricot tree to participate). As Ree's best friend asserts later on about Harold (when they're discussing if any family members might take the boys in, if Ree leaves for the Army - and everyone suggested is in the family crank business), "I hope that ain't the way it goes," because, "I don't believe Harold'll be the type can hack prison." A (seemingly) virtual inevitability in this family and their business of raising future crack cooks, distributors - and users (though not Ree - she's determined to be the one to break out of the business).
A depressing prospect, at best. But there is hope in this novel.
There is something about the last hour you spend with one kind of book that has really captured you, drawn you into its story, that makes you want to simultaneously prolong the journey with the author, while still retaining that eagerness to reach the final destination and find out the rest of the story.
Then there are the books, where the last hour is so fraught with building tension, that to prolong it, is only to prolong your own agony. You must finish it, finish it right now (or alternatively, if I fear a really horrible outcome, I'll abandon it forever, not wanting to know - that doesn't happen often, but there have been two or three over the years, where I simply couldn't bear witness to what I felt was about to happen to the characters - chicken of me, I know - and someday, I'll return to finish them - when the connection with the characters has loosened, and it doesn't feel quite so devastating to find out the rest of the story). Tough though it was at points, I was glad I hung in there for this one.
In this last hour of the long winter's night, I'm glad I did finish this one. I'm thinking of donating it to a local library in one of the neighboring towns. Though our particular little town has been blessed to not have the high crime rate and drug problem as others in Southern California, there are areas, other cities, which unforunately bear a passing resemblance to the "community" presented in this book. You never know, there might be a teenager out there who, in checking it out, just might find a little hope at what may seem like their last hour.
*Daniel Woodrell's author's bio states, in part, he was "Born in the Missouri Ozarks, left school, and enlisted in the Marines the week he turned seventeen, received his bachelor's degree at age 27, graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop and spent a year on a Michener Fellowship. Winter's Bone is his eighth novel." Pretty darn inspirational bio, wouldn't you say?