Set amongst poor white trash in the Ozark Hills, Winter's Bone is an extraordinary book. It is the story of Ree Dolly, a teenage girl, whose father is in and out of prison and whose mother has given up. Ree looks after her younger siblings, finding food to put on the table and energy to cook it.
The story follows her search for her father after he jumps bail, having put the family home up as security. Ree has to face down hard men and tough women, uncover family secrets and seek out the truth in her quest.
The book is incredibly atmospheric, with rounded characters and plot that is never stretched, but retains its tension throughout. This is not an easy read, emotionally; the violence can be graphic and the poverty grinding, but it is absolutely worth it.
Woodrell knows his territory intimately; he lives in the Ozarks. That comes through on every page, with an extraordinary sense of landscape. He is also one of the few male authors who can write female characters as well as he writes men. In the end it is that intimacy, that tenderness, with the hills, with the characters, even with the violence, that lifts this book above the ordinary.