Daniel Woodrell says he writes "country noir." This book is plenty country, but it's not noir by my definition. Of course, we all know that different people have different definitions of that word. To paraphrase an old joke about economists, if you laid all the people with definitions of noir end to end, they'd all point in different directions. But I digress. I'll tell you at the end of this why the book's not noir, but it's a huge spoiler. Consider yourself warned.
The story here is about a 16-year-old woman named Ree Dolly. Her father has a court appearance coming up, but no one can find him. That's bad, because he's put up his house and land to cover part of his bond. Ree either has to find him or prove he's dead to save the property. And she needs to save it because she has to have it to take care of her two brothers and her mentally incompetent mother. To Ree and to the Ozark folks in her part of the country, kin is everything. Blood trumps all.
I said the book wasn't noir, but it's sure hardboiled. Ree's odyssey is brutal, but she's tough (and tough-minded) enough to take it. It's all told in the kind of colloquial but still poetic language that works well for this kind of tale. It's not exactly a crime novel. More of a backwoods story, and Woodrell knows the people he's writing about intimately. Great stuff. And the book's short, always a selling point for me. Shorter maybe than a Robert B. Parker novel.
Now for the huge SPOILER explaining why the book's not noir. I'll drop down a few spaces before answering.
SPOILER: Winter's Bone isn't noir because it has a more or less happy ending. Fairy dust is dancing in the air. It's even set up for a sequel with Ree working for a bailbondsman. I can see it now: Stephanie Plum in the Ozarks. Okay, surely not. Whatever happens to Ree, it's going to be a lot different from anything Stephanie Plum might enounter. I, for one, will be interested to see just what it is.