Life is a hardscrabble affair for sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly, forced by poverty and an irresponsible father to care for her two younger brothers and mentally ill mother. She dreams of escaping the Ozarks, of making a better life for herself by joining the Army as soon as humanly possible.When local law enforcement shows up at her door one winter's day, she learns that her father has jumped bail and disappeared after posting the house and timber as payment, unless Ree can find her father or prove him dead, the property will be seized and the family kicked out to live in the fields or a cave. Ree realizes her dream of freedom will be impossible to obtain without the security of a roof over her brothers heads and vows to track her father down in order to save what little they have.
It is a daunting task made more difficult by the clannish nature of the community with a long-standing tradition of protecting their own and closely guarding dark family secrets. As Ree follows the trail she is forced to face some difficult truths about herself, the Dolly family and people she has grown up with.
Being beaten nearly to death doesn't sway Ree from attempting to ferret out what happened to her father in a tragedy that involves drug labs, lies and family ties. What she discovers is truth, not only about the whereabouts of her father but about herself as well
At once depressing in the depth of poverty and social ills portrayed, yet uplifting to some degree with the strength of Ree's character, this is a thought-provoking, evocative novel. One cannot help but marvel at her determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds but it appears that in the end, she fails to make the final break for which she yearned and worked so hard to achieve.
It's sad to think this young woman might just wind up following the well-beaten path to being another poor, misused wife and mother which simply illustrates how finely Woodrell developed his characters in this return to the Ozarks.