My February column for the Sisters in Crime newsletter:
It was 5:30 in the morning, and I hadn’t been to bed yet. There had been a club, a DJ and dancing. Lots and lots of dancing. It’s possible we’d had a few drinks, my friends and I. And even without the drinks, my cognitive powers were not at their keenest. At 5:30, I’m not to be trusted with sharp objects, fractions or the proper tying of shoelaces. Nonetheless, it was then my friend turned to me and asked, “What book should I be reading?”
“Winter’s Bone,” I croaked. “Daniel Woodrell.”
“Why that one?”
“Truth,” I answered before my short-term memory and several vital organs began to fail in protest of the hour.
I could not have named the seven continents at that time of day. Could not have answered any of my online banking security questions or found my own car in the parking lot, which is a good thing as it would turn out I’d taken a cab. But I could not, would not forget the name of that book.
Woodrell’s books are set in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, a unique, complicated, amazing, troubled place not unlike Appalachia. I grew up in Missouri, with family and community roots that run down to that place. It’s long ago and far away, and I’d forgotten it really. Forgotten the sounds and smells and taste of it in your mouth, had nothing left of it but the barest facts. But Woodrell writes so true, inhabits the mind and the voice of that place so completely, things I forgot I knew came spewing up like dirty water out of a clogged drain.
“Example?” my friend asked.
I opened one eye and thought for a second. “The main character? She’s getting her younger brothers ready for school. One of the boys is getting picked on, and she says to them, ‘One of you comes home bloodied, you both better come home bloodied.’”
“And that’s the ethos of that place?”
“Yep. That’s its truth.”
That place has a lot of truths. Some of them aren’t so pretty. Some of them are pretty damn uncomfortable. Just like that last sentence, I wrote “darn” instead of “damn,” but would I really say “darn?” No, I just didn’t want you to think badly of me. But it’s not my truth, so I fixed it. It’s so hard not to want to cover up the ugly, embarrassing, raw parts when you write. I’m still working on it. Fortunately, I’ve got Winter’s Bone to remind me of how it should be done.