Recently I read a book called Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Then I did something highly unusual for me: I picked up the book and re-read it the next day. Within a few weeks, I had repeated this for a third time.
Winter’s Bone is a beautifully written and riveting novel of the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. You may have seen the movie—it was an Indie nominated for an Academy Award in 2011. It tells the story of Ree Dolly, a 16 year-old girl, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who has prematurely become responsible for her two younger brothers and mentally ill mother in the remote rural area of the Ozark Mountains where they live. Her father, a meth “chef,” is in and out the family’s life. When Ree’s Dad is arrested, he puts the family home and land up as collateral for his bail and then disappears. If Ree cannot find him, she and her family will lose their ancestral home and land to the bail bondsman and will be virtually turned out to the bitter bone-cold winter. The novel follows Ree as she desperately scours the hollers for her Dad, putting her life in danger both from the harshness of the elements and the vitriol of her extended family, who perceive her as butting into a business where she does not belong.
Completing my third reading, I found myself becoming genuinely perplexed as to why I was so entranced with this book. I don’t generally like violent or dark novels. After Sadhvi invited me to write this review, I told her that I would do so, but that I did not think it had anything to do with the content of this site. As I started putting my thoughts on paper, however, I realized it has everything to do with my being 50 plus.
Winter’s Bone ignited a dark and primal part of myself that I don’t often experience anymore at this point in my life. It evokes a place that is not civilized, not polite, not people pleasing, not law abiding. Although it can be viewed as a hard-core story about the dark side of the human spirit, it is also about nature; her purity, her harshness, her ferocity, and her dispassion. Reading this book transported me 50 plus years back to when I spent most of my life outside. This was a time when I was often alone and didn’t have much on my mind—just the sights, smells, sounds, and feeling of my surroundings. It was a sensory time, a time to know myself and my environment.
Ree’s perceptions of snow clouds gathering over the mountains, of the different ways a snowfall can be experienced, of the way ice looks and feels on the ground—these are all things I too knew. When danger arises, it is immediately followed by fear and instinctual action. Life for Ree is not a state of constant anxiety or a series of perseverations over things that cannot be controlled. It is moment to moment experience. When her best friend comes to stay with her, she is filled with joy, pure and simple. No planning of how to spend the day or what to do—just unadulterated happiness at the presence of a loved one. When she is badly injured, she surrenders to the pain, accepting it as it is and then allowing healing to occur. Sadly, these are things that feel lost to me as my busy and overly conditioned mind gets in the way—always wanting to analyze, plan, control, or worry about my life.
Anyway, at age 58, I realize how much I miss my original nature. As a child, the rules of society could be suspended and I was able to be free and at ease out in nature. But now this state seems more and more distant as I end this decade; almost unattainable. I think this is part of why I often experience depression and anxiety. I am missing something intrinsic to my spirit, sustenance to my life I cannot find. An antidote to death, which will be coming sooner or later. So now I realize why I wanted to keep reading Winter’s Bone. It is a great reminder that somewhere in my consciousness, the freedom of my childhood still exists and can perhaps even be found once again.