Daniel Woodrell has a way with words, and if you're a fan of his work it's the language that seduces you. His plots are earthy, celebrate the lives of those whose values are bent by the fires of hard luck. He has the magic of voice in earlier novels, speaking in the first person, giving his characters an innocent honesty combined with intelligence and ignorance in just the right tragic mix.
Winter's bone starts at a slower pace than his other books. Sixteen year old Ree Dolly, of the infamous no-good Dollys, a poor and violent outlaw clan, is the center of the story, and it's told from the third person. At first you wonder if Woodrell can get this thing rolling, but before you know it the vernacular has crept in and the situation and the girl are compelling, you've got to find out what happens. It gets pretty grisly, in a satisfying way. I mean to say it gets rough, more or less true to life rough, though spiffed up for dramatic effect.
There are so many good lines in this book you could genuinely call it a great poem, in the same club with Ted Hughs's "Crow". What makes the language so great is what Woodrell is so good at, mixing the vernacular with high language, with close observation, with humor and surprising but apt connections, with music in the sounds and light and shadow in the images, with affection for all of creation, no matter how low.
Winter's Bone has you shivering in the heavy snow with Ree in her grandma's coat and bare legs, trying to keep the family together, give her little brothers a chance for a better life.
To my mind, this is great art, though I will say I think Woodrell's plots are mainly scaffolds to hang the words and characters on. I am rarely satisfied by his plots, but I don't think the plots are what's important in Woodrell's work. He butts you up against life's essence so close you can smell skin and feel heat.