Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two Very Different Stories of Family


My Uncle Dick always said that the Ozark Mountains are the oldest mountains on Earth. The Internet says that geologists don’t know for sure, but nominate the Appalachians and Urals as possible candidates. I was never of a mind to argue with Uncle Dick. Besides, the Ozarks feel ancient—primordial. Human beings may have come out of Africa, but the Earth came out of the Ozarks. You can feel it.

Although I have never lived there I am of the Ozarks. Our people have been there since well before the Civil War. I study the Ozarks like it was a foreign country because for someone raised in the Pacific Northwest it is foreign. The food is different, the notion of time is different, the language is different. When I come upon something having to do with the Ozarks, specifically the Missouri Ozarks, I sit up and take notice. That’s why my summer reads have been Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell and The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton. Both of these books are set in my father’s beloved Ozarks and are very, very, different books. I believe they show two different aspects of life in the Ozarks. Both authors were born and raised in the Ozarks, separated by 40 years. Both novels are about family and loyalty and tradition. These families face different challenges that they handle differently, but in the end it is that “blood is thicker than water” belief that draws them together.

The Moonflower Vine is a re-release of a novel first published in 1962, again in 1990 (don’t know how that slipped by me) and again in 2009. Set in the 1950s, it is the story of a family and their lives outside Renfo, MO. The adult daughters come home together in the summers although they are scattered as far as New York. The Ozarks call them back, not unlike they called my family back over and over. It’s a family you wouldn’t mind visiting, sitting on the porch and watching the moon flowers bloom. It has the heat and humidity of summers back there—those days that are two shower days, although the Soames don’t have indoor plumbing and in the summer bathe in the creek. By the 1950s my grandparents were living in Washington State, but the Soames are a family not unlike the Friezes—especially those relatives who remained there. Although Renfro is in Moniteau County, reading the Moonflower Vine is like a step back in time and south to Dade County. Jetta Carleton was born in Holden, Missouri, not far from Renfro.

Winter’s Bone is a contemporary novel about a family with problems that many Americans may believe are the province of big cities. In Woodrell’s Ozarks methamphetamine has replaced moonshine and fifteen year old Ree Dolly’s daddy is a crank cooker. Dad has put up the family farm as bond and disappeared. Ree needs to save the farm to care for her mother, who has escaped to more peaceful places in her mind, and her two younger brothers. Living in a holler that’s populated by family who are distrustful of the law at best and outlaws at worst, Ree’s world appears different as can be from that of the Soame’s in Moonflower. As the title suggests, it is set in the winter and the language is as jagged and raw as the winter wind. It bites at you. This is not my father’s Ozarks, but yet it is. We may or may not have had our moonshiners and outlaws, but the bond of blood was the same.

Winter’s Bone got the attention of director Debra Grankin as well as the Sun Dance Film Festival where the movie version (Ree is 17 in the movie) won Best Picture and Best Screen Play. Filmed in Taney County, my cousin predicted that anything filmed there was going to be a “yawn.” If the movie is anything like the book, it is anything but. It opens at the Grand in Tacoma on July 26th and I plan to be there.

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