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Review of Winter's Bone

Updated on January 30, 2020
satomko profile image

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

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Theatrical poster

Daniel Woodrell’s Country Noir Tale

In the Ozarks a young woman searches for her meth-cook father who has put up their house for his bail bond only to disappear.

Ree Dolly’s life is one of rural poverty and intense responsibility as she struggles to raise her two younger brothers in the frequent absence of their criminal father and invalid mother. When she learns they may lose the house—the only stable element in their lives—Ree sets out to question her lawless, extended family about the whereabouts of her father before the bail bondsman comes to repossess the property.

Ozark Gothic

What really makes this novel succeed are the characters and the powerful sense of the setting. The protagonist, Ree Dolly, is sixteen yet is forced by a sense of responsibility to her family to behave with more maturity and backbone than many of the adults in the novel. All the while she dreams of ways to escape the burdens of her responsibility be it through mood relaxation music or dreams of joining the army to travel far away. Uncle Teardrop—a disfigured multiple felon—is terrifying because of his physical injuries, his jailhouse tattoos, and his unpredictability even when he is not using meth. His presence injects tension into the novel because the reader never knows if he’ll try to help or hinder Ree. Gail, Ree’s best friend since childhood, is already a mother, and over the course of the story the readers see their friendship strain as each is pulled by their respective feelings of family responsibility.

The Ozarks appear both beautiful and frightening in Winter’s Bone. Because everyone lives in such isolation from mainstream society the characters and the reader get to experience a rich landscape of dense woods, winding creeks, unpaved roads, and the constant cold weight of winter. In contrast most of the characters are materially impoverished, and those who aren’t owe their wealth to the illicit narcotics trade. In fact the outlaw life is something of a birthright to many in Ree’s family, and this quality is something they all struggle with since it is powerful enough to predetermine their lives toward continued crime and poverty. This mindset will be familiar to any fans of the series Elmore Leonard based television series, Justified.

White Rock Mountain in the Boston Mountains region of the Arkansas Ozarks. Charles Smith 2003
White Rock Mountain in the Boston Mountains region of the Arkansas Ozarks. Charles Smith 2003

Southern Literary Legacy

With the primal intensity of the Ozark setting and crushing internal and external struggles, Woodrell’s novel reads like an inheritor to both the themes and style of authors such as William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy’s earlier works like The Orchard Keeper and Outer Dark. The setting of the novel is one of a natural world that is powerful and ruthless, so those who populate it are equally hard and ready for sudden violence. These qualities cut both ways since Ree has the strength to shoulder the burdens of her family, but other characters like Thump Milton whose face is “a monument of Ozark stone, with juts and angles and cold shaded parts the sun never touched” survive and thrive because they are just as harsh as the world around them (133).

Winter’s Bone is a forceful novel that reads surprisingly fast, likely because the plot provides structure and deadlines that prove as strong and inevitable as the setting, so the action is always propelled forward. This book should be on the reading list of anyone interested in contemporary Southern literature or just good, solid writing.


Woodrell, Daniel. Winter’s Bone. New York; Back Bay Books, 2006.

© 2010 Seth Tomko


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    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      10 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you, Winterfate. I try to do my best.

    • Winterfate profile image

      Darrin Perez 

      10 years ago from Puerto Rico

      I like your review: It's short and to the point.

      Sounds like an interesting read. :)

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      10 years ago from Macon, GA

      No problem, billyaustindillon. I will say that Woodrell's novel reads a lot faster than Faulkner or McCarthy.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      10 years ago

      Another excellent review - Winters bone set in the Ozarks does set up nicely and I do enjoy Faulkner and McCarthy so this looks like a great recommendation - thanks for that.

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      10 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you, Ralph Deeds. I'll put a link to your review, too.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice job. I did a review of the movie "Winter's Bone." Quite a good movie. I'll link your book review.

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      10 years ago from Macon, GA

      I hope you enjoy it, Itfawkes, and let me know if you read any of Woodrell's other novels.

    • ltfawkes profile image


      10 years ago from NE Ohio

      Thanks, satomko,

      I haven't come across this author before, so you've given me both a new author and a new book to enjoy.


    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      10 years ago from Macon, GA

      I felt that way, too, valeriebelew, so I moved it to the top of my reading list.

    • valeriebelew profile image


      10 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      Oh gosh, satomko. You know I'll probably end up reading it. The story sounds like one I couldn't put down. Good review. (:v

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      10 years ago from Macon, GA

      I appreciate your trust in my hub reviews, Kaie Arwen. If it helps you out, there's no deadline by which to read these books, but I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 

      10 years ago

      Great review............. I just went to the library on Friday to check out Lavinia; you're getting way ahead of me here! :-D Don't know if I will be able to keep up, but you keep them coming. The books you've chosen seem to be a great list of recommendations............. thanks, K

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      10 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for your comments, dahoglund. I was cautious in my use of the word "gothic" because it is over used and misused, and I'm glad you believe I got it right.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      You used the ord Gothic and I think it applies to the way you describe the plot. Mysteries in my experience usually have urban setting--more recently small towns. Gothics tend to be rural of at least isolated. From Wuthering Heights to Daphne De Muire (sp?)

      Intrigueing review,


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