Daniel Woodrell is the author of nine novels, most recently The Maid’s Version, and a collection of short stories. The 2010 film adaptation of his novel, Winter’s Bone, won a grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for four Academy Awards. The following excerpt, titled “The Girl Diving,” is the opening for Woodrell’s novel-in-progress.
This 11-year-old girl sat at dawn on a large gray boulder beside the Tulla River and spent mornings insulting tourists passing in canoes. The rapids began just beyond her perch, a short but antic stretch of whitewater, and she would suggest that hesitant paddlers skip the portage, they’d surely feel lame later that evening while roasting weenies on the gravel beach if they did that, and be exciting, that’s what you’re here for, try the swift treacherous passage down a pummeling sluice between heavy rocks. The rapids required skills the hesitant seldom had, but many puffed with pride anyway when challenged by a hillbilly shrimp with little meat on her bones. They would set off into the big splashes and froth with resigned grins and soon bob up downstream, heads on the water biting at air, and their dumped canoes would spread a mystery of baubles and doodads on the bottom rocks to be claimed—camera, coffee cup, folding knife, unopened can of anything, class ring, wristwatch, shoe, all went into her backpack. She wasn’t purely mean with her insults, there was a narrow presence of pity between big slabs of mockery, and many of the men glanced at one another and laughed in defense of themselves when she bluntly questioned their courage, pointed out with a worldly shrug of scant shoulders that they plainly had none, she’d seen such before, sorry to say, and asked if nature and mama dropped them into this world already cowardly, or had they learned to be that way from experience.
“Might the name of your college have the word Chickenshit in it? It had ought to.”
On her last known morning atop the boulder she had to wait until a layer of fog burned away from the bottoms and the warming sun made the cold and clear water inviting.
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