Ree Dolly is just sixteen years old when her father leaves and doesn’t come back. The Dollys are a tough clan, living in the Ozarks for years- some take the straight life but mostly they run outside the law and are heavily into manufacturing and dealing crystal meth. A knock on the door brings Ree some shocking news as she finds out that the last time her father, who has been in and out of jail for most of his adult life, posted bond he used the house and the surrounding acreage as collateral; now if he doesn’t show up next Tuesday for his court date Ree and her family will lose everything. Ree can’t let that happen, so even if it means facing the darkness in her family’s history Ree is determined to bring him back dead or alive.
If you have the time to read this book in one sitting then you will not be able to put it down. I was completely immersed in the land of the clannish families in the Ozarks the minute I opened this book and read the first page. The language is both raw and beautiful, capturing the stark beauty of the land and the idiosyncratic language, dialogue, mannerisms of a collective where everyone knows and has known each other for years. I really felt swept away by a culture that was both new to me but familiar because it held a lot of the characteristics of the small towns that I have experienced in the South- both protective and claustrophobic.
Ree is a tough cookie. She’s got a hard road ahead of her now because while she had been dreaming about escaping her life and joining the army, which she values for the cleanliness and order that it will provide, she has now got to deal with other things that are much worse. Ree’s mother is of no use to her because she has lost her mind, and she sits days after day in her rocking chair broken by the harsh life of the Ozarks. Ree goes about preparing her younger brothers Sonny, 10, and Harold, 8, for taking care of themselves and their mother in the event that Ree is not around. That’s just how scared she is to be dealing with finding her father. She teaches them some rudimentary shooting and hunting skills, as well as some cooking, cleaning and washing their mother’s hair. The life that they lead in the harsh and unforgiving climate of the Ozarks seems so real. I also really loved the relationship that she had with her best friend Gail- the way that they support each other and made the best of circumstances that are far from ideal was very touching.
As Ree is looking for her father she faces some pretty scary characters, not least among them her father’s brother Uncle Teardrop- meth manufacturer who also takes the product, and Thump Milton, a man who is feared throughout the county. Very few of the Dolly clan aren’t rough and tumble hardened criminals. Even though Ree is warned away from her search she knows it is the only way that her family will survive and she brazenly tries to face down whatever comes her way. The details that emerge and the convoluted and overlapping bloodlines of the clan are fascinating and I spent some time trying to keep all of the bloodlines and similar first names and family names straight in my head. I found this in the YA section of the store but you can just as easily drop the young and you have a perfectly chilling adult novel about one teenager’s unrelenting efforts to save her family. I can’t wait to pick up another of Woodrell’s books to seer what else he has out there. This is one of the most chilling and realistic tales that I have read some quite time and I was cringing throughout because I didn’t want anything to happen to Ree, but at the same time I wanted to see what would come next. This book really grabs on and doesn’t let go til the end.
One of Daniel Woodrell’s books Woe to Live On was adapted into the movie Ride With the Devil. I thought that was a great movie. Have you seen that movie or read any of his other books? Thoughts?