Thursday, June 18, 2009

uncle teardrop

I finished another book from my challenge today: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. I really really liked this book. It’s got story. It’s got character. It’s got plenty o’ words grouped up together in good groups.

I knew I’d like Winter’s Bone from the first paragraph. Take the first sentence: Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat.
The first interesting thing about this sentence is “break of day” and its lack of “the.” Woodrell could just as easily have written “the break of day” or “daybreak,” but no. Something a little off there, a little old fashioned? Ok. And then the sentence becomes a string of senses – the cold, a faint smell on the air, then the wallop of sight.

2nd sentence: Meat hung from trees across the creek.
What I like about this sentence is – having just gotten to the end of the string of the first sentence – this picks up right where we left off, as if being re-jolted by what we just witnessed: “...meat. Meat...” I like the meat/trees/creek long -ee- happening here soundwise. And the image brings me something macabre. What kind of meat?! I know from this there are going to be some sacrifices made I this book.

Then: The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards.
Here Woodrell has dispensed again with the “the” before “low limbs,” and plays again with sound - flesh/fatty, low/limbs, saplings/side. I’m impressed. Can he keep it up? What I especially love about this sentence, though, is “pale of flesh.” It’s almost Elizabethan. Or is it Ozarkian? I’ve no idea, but I dig it. I also like that fatty gleam of meat contrasted with the saplings that have to bear it. And I learn later in the book about the young bearing up under their history.

Now the killer: Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.
I could rattle on some more about language here, but mostly look at that metaphor. I know this book is going to involve something ripening. This is a story about a 16-year old girl growing up in poverty with meth heads and other sundry characters, including a guy named Uncle Teardrop and a Shakespearian trio of witches. Experience is going to round the girl out. As a reader I’m happy about the “sweetening,” a foreshadowing that tells me this story won’t be all bad – there’ll be something good in it, or at least worth working for.


Lisa said...

Interesting excerpt and compelling exegesis. The surreal setting makes me think Faulkner, and the language (and scene, as well), make me think McCarthy. Yet, your note about the final metaphor in the paragraph indicates that it's clearly more accessible while maintaining a literary standard. Thanks for the preview.

SarahJane said...

i will admit this book has its taint of pollyanna, but it's a grimy pollyanna with a bit of grit in her teeth, so i'm glad to let it go....

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