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Country Noir

What an absolute pleasant surprise Daniel Woodrell turned out to be.  A friend turned me onto him a year or so ago when they read about a film adaptation of his 2006 book. The friend, much like myself, likes to read the source material before they see the film version, if possible. They raved about it, and told me that it very much seemed like something that I would be interested in (and I am a sucker for recommendations). I took their words to heart and picked up Winter’s Bone.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that most of the public is aware of just how good the movie turned out. Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay,  for leading actress Jennifer Lawrence, as well as Best Supporting Actor for John Hawkes, all of which are incredibly deserved and make a case for winning (although none of them did). I, having now read the book, was ready to believe the hype. The movie is spectacular, but it is Woodrell’s vision that gave it life. The Ozark mountain setting is so bleak it’s hard to imagine any life would inhabit its space, but he fills the scene with characters so vivid they must be real – they are downtrodden, beat down, rugged and emotional – there is blood pumping at their core and every action is necessary and vital.

Imagine my delight when I found out afterwards (and an embarassingly long time afterwards) that this wasn’t Woodrell’s first novel, as I suspected, but instead his seventh. This guy was an old pro, sneaking out novels right under my nose, but now I have made it my mission to catch up. Since, I have read Give Us a Kiss, which is so gritty that most of the passages I want to share aren’t fit to print. I’m considering saying that I enjoyed it even more than Winter’s Bone, but the two are different enough to not warrant comparison.

I also learned that this wasn’t even the first time Woodrell had been adapted into a movie. Ang Lee took Woodrell’s Woe to Live On and turned it into Ride With the Devil. This was my first experience with not totally enjoying Woodrell’s work, but I did begin to see how apt the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy are – while a book about the Civil War may not have hit the spot for me, the dude is a very seriously talented writer.

Next I’ll be sitting down with The Bayou Trilogy, Woodrell’s “Rene Shade” series comprising of his first three novels, Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, The Ones You Do. As always, dear readers, I will let you know what I think and pass it along to you, because nothing is better than a good recommendation.

– Tony

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