This book has been on my to-be-read-someday list for years, so I was glad to finally be able to take a crack at it, but I wish I had read it sooner.
It wasn’t a perfect book (alas, there are so few of these), but the story is compelling, the characters both realistic and intriguing, and generally it was well written. One of the few bones I had to pick with this novel is that almost every noun was paired with an adjective, especially in the first chapter, but eventually I adjusted to the author’s adjective-heavy style and it stopped bothering me by the end of the book.
But for all the extra adjectives the setting is conveyed so well through Woodrell’s descriptive imagery, and there are some seriously shiver-inducing lines. My particular favorite was “The water was a color [she’d] pick for the jewel in a meaningful finger ring”, because it manages to be so specific and ambiguous at the same time, and because it reads gorgeously. Another great one was “gray nailed down over down over the sky complete,” although it’s harder to articulate why this one spoke to me besides that it conveys exactly what the weather is like.
One of the strongest features of the story is the interpersonal relationships, especially between Ree and her best friend, Gail. The relationships between the different families is also well-written, as is the loyalty to family (especially the way the family repeats names and then relies on creative nicknames to actually identify family members). The Dolly family mythology is also communicated clearly without the author forcing it; it’s indirectly conveyed as the story progresses and yet you don’t feel like things come up only to assist the plot.
The only other downside in my opinion was the ending; although it’s complete enough, it seemed a little too fairytale for the bitter realism that makes up the rest of the book. Wait- I just thought of another thing: in the dead of winter, Ree wears only skirts (and often short ones at that), and yet her legs are never cold. Just goes to show that the author has never worn a skirt before.
Tone-wise, this book reminded me of The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo, although the main protagonists are very different between the two stories and the plots don’t have much of a connection. Still, the underlying conflictions about family over personal happiness and the desperation that comes out from the type of poverty both books deal with make the two novels resonate with each other.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE?
I always forget how good of an actress Jennifer Lawrence is; when I think about her I always imagine the Hunger Games movies, but the truth is that she’s excellent when given workable material. Ree is such an important character that the movie needed a strong lead, and although the supporting cast is also strong, Lawrence really does carry the movie.
There are problems, such as whatever reason they had to change the gender of one of the siblings (personally I think you miss out on part of the story this way), or that there’s much less backstory for any character, and especially Jessup. One of the good departures is the fact that Lawrence’s Ree doesn’t wear skirts in the cold, but dresses with a much more practical (and likely) functionality.
One good addition was the scene with the army recruiter; I think it was well staged and well acted, and it drives home Ree’s helplessness and how she truly is alone in her worries.
But the use of music is fantastic, and the visual imagery conveys exactly the same tone as the written imagery in the novel, which makes this adaption a success in my mind.