It's hard to explain. Partly, I am just tired of men writing books with women as the heroine, when, really, I think it is time for them to write about the emotional lives of men instead of girls and women. I am especially tired of reading stories written by men about women beaten and raped. Women as victims who triumph over the evil and neglect of men. Maybe it would be good if they'd just write about why men feel so entitled to beat and rape and neglect and leave women saddled with such misery.
I was reading this at about the same time I started reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books and something similar struck me, as it had before with other books: men writing good, compelling, interesting stories about very young women who must show extreme strength under horrendous circumstances. Much of it, they get right, but part of it goes badly wrong. In the Tattoo books, Lizbeth, who shows little interest in how she looks, in whether she's conventionally attractive to men or women, and was brutally raped, goes out and gets herself a boob job with money she 'acquired.' This is--not just off, but off in a particular way that tells me this is more about what the author wants in his strong female character--things that are pretty convenient for a man: she has impaired social skills and is emotionally distant so she's not the kind of woman who will want to cuddle after sex, which by the way, she initiates with no romancing or effort on the part of the man, she also is into chicks, she has mad computer skills and is very self reliant, and given a chance: she goes for bigger boobs. What man wouldn't adore her? Plus: she is raped very brutally and prior to that, she's victimized by more than one men, who are all creepy, but still: he gets to write scenes of strong, determined girl/woman who nonetheless, is held against her will and sexually exploited (remember when she was institutionalized at 12? That, in addition to the rape by her 'guardian.')
Ree is also brutalized--savagely beaten but by women instead of men. And of course, she's attracted to her best friend. What guy isn't into lesbians these days? Woodell's book is much more authentic, yes. It's a much, much better book. And I do get that he wants to show the absolute vulnerability of his main character who is faced with overwhelming odds against her: a sick mother, two little brothers, a father on the run from the law, and horrendously brutal poverty. But why can't he write about what made the men make the choices they did? How it must have felt for Jessup to see his beautiful wife fall apart and become catatonic? How poverty grinds at a MAN's soul? Why isn't it the man who is brutally beaten?
That said: what he does get right is the beauty and the poetry of the woods and how poverty does not steal that from the people in the Ozarks but rather makes every small bit of beauty that much more precious. I went back and found a review of the book on the Washington Post site and they did not understand how the boys could enjoy the British shows they saw on television, given how poverty stricken their own lives were. But these people are largely descended from the British and the oral traditions, traditional stories and poetry and music are mostly British. It makes sense that they would enjoy those programs and even identify to a certain extent. Although some city folk seem to think only rich city people can enjoy PBS.
The scene where Ree and her friend are in the store, and her friend, who has bit more money,wants to get the 'sprinkle cheese'--the crappy stuff that's ground into powder and sold by Kraft and tastes like cardboard--and Ree won't get it because she can't afford to let her brothers get used to luxuries they will not likely be able to have again. She can't afford to let them soften even a tiny bit. I've been there myself. It was only myself, but I understood why Ree would find such luxury dangerous.
The squirrel hunting scene? OK: we were not nearly, nearly, nearly that poor growing up--nothing close to it, but my dad and uncle and grandfather used to hunt rabbits, squirrels and occasionally deer (which were less abundant when I was a kid and more expensive to hunt). Later it was pheasants and quail--rich people food, but who knew?--but for me, not nearly as tasty as squirrel or rabbit. I went with one time (at age 9 or so) and declined to hunt afterwards, but I grew up helping my dad clean small game and had for a couple of years, at least by the time I went out with my dad, hunting. I did fish and helped clean fish as well, not just the ones I caught but simply splitting the work between us. My dad and me, not my mom or sisters who had weak stomachs and couldn't/wouldn't do such messy work. I cleaned a lot of food for our table.
The point I'm making is that hunting squirrels for food might be shocking to city folk or younger people today, but I know that for many people living in rural areas, this is not surprising or shocking. It's common place and not just out of dire necessity. Her brothers would have likely been on their way to hunting squirrels at their age and certainly would have helped clean them. They would have also been conversant in trapping rabbits, I would expect. Simply as a matter of course. It felt a little false--I could have seen her making her brothers go out and hunt, at least the older one and making the younger one help clean the game. But the older one, Sonny, would be somewhat experienced already at age 10.
These are quibbles, yes.
I'd also like to see women authors get more recognition and publication. And face it: if a woman had written Winter's Bone, it would be heralded as a feminist treatise and send to the bargain bin and obscurity, bypassing the film options altogether. Maybe Lifetime would pick it up. After all, what happened to Bastard Out of Carolina? Even directed by Angelica Houston, with a wonderful cast, it went straight to obscurity. Written by a man: Oscar time. And much more exploitative.
Ok: enough feminazi ranting for one night.