The movie "Winter's Bone" is getting a lot of well-deserved attention right now. It's up for Best Picture, and its young star, Jennifer Lawrence, is up for Best Actress. Also, for you trivia buffs, John Hawkes, the man who plays Ree's uncle Teardrop, is from Alexandria, Minnesota. (Thanks, Roger P., for that info.) He is up for Best Supporting Actor in a role that The New York Times calls a "breakthrough performance."
The book was written by Daniel Woodrell, an author who Esquire magazine called "The most overlooked great novelist in America... ."I saw it on a teen shelf in my library right around the time the movie was hitting the theaters, so I thought I would grab it to see what all the fuss was about. (This is definitely not a book just for teens.) I thought the book was amazing, intense, unique. Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to see the movie because of a few violent scenes. But several fellow movie lovers assured me it was more implied than actually shown. So now I'm waiting for the movie to come to me through Netflix.
What blew me away about "Winter's Bone" is that it revealed a slice of our society that is right under our nose but so invisible to the general public. How many of us really know about the devastating poverty in the Ozarks, the effects of the coal mines shutting down, and the meth labs that have taken over people's lives? The hopelessness, the culture of "us vs. them" that creates an incredibly closed, dysfunctional society, the go-nowhere lives of the young people.
On my way to writing this I looked into who Daniel Woodrell is, and where exactly his story was set, and I came upon this interesting interview where he talks about his writing and his background, which, surprisingly, is much like his characters'. At the time of this interview "Winter's Bone" had not yet been made into a movie.
If you liked "Winter's Bone" you might want to pick up a collection of short stories called "Burning Bright" by Ron Rash, a North Carolina writer who sets his stories in the Appalachian mountains.
I was familiar with this author from reading his novel "Serena," a Pen/Faulkner 2009 Finalist set in 1930s North Carolina, when the lumber barons were moving in from the East to clear cut the timber and make their fortunes. He created some unforgettable characters in "Serena," including the couple who come out from Boston and eventually, in their quest for power, destroy everything around them, including each other. It is a Greek tragedy set in the time of the Vanderbilt's (who make an appearance in the story) and very hard to put down.
So when I saw a new book by Ron Rash called "Burning Bright," I was immediately on alert. This collection of short stories (winner of the 2010 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize) covers some of the same ground that Daniel Woodrell covers in terms of desperate people trying to fix their lives with meth. I say some because he also sets a story in the North Carolina mountains during the Civil War, and another story in the present about a woman who marries a drifter and then wonders if he is the arsonist that the local sheriff is trying to find. No matter the time period all of these stories take place in the Appalachian mountains, a place I am beginning to see as beautiful, brutal, unforgiving, and completely hidden away from most of us with soccer mom lives and iPhone apps.