Tuesday, June 4, 2013


I knew Daniel Woodrell only by the adapted screenplay of his book "WINTER'S BONE", which was turned into the excellent dark and desperate film of the same name. That was enough to give me a whiff of the man's Ozark Gothic creepiness, and a well-placed review somewhere of his 2011 short story collection "THE OUTLAW ALBUM" was the kick I needed to get me to give him a try. Woodrell's already got a pretty good batch of books under his belt, and he's the real deal: born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks, where he lives to this day. He cites Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor as being among his influences, and you'll find them all represented well in his noirish stories, all of which are centered on lives lived on the margin, tucked away from the America that most of us can easily relate to. If you saw the film "Winter's Bone", you know what sort of people he's talking about here as well.

While I can't honestly bring myself to say I was moved in any significantly life-evolving way by "The Outlaw Album", I found it easy to complete and to enjoy, with the caveat that enjoying this book means tamping down your inner squeamishness and discomfort to a great degree. It's not so much gross nor chilling in any exceptional manner, it's more psychologically wrenching than anything else. Plenty of his characters are hurt, scarred and lost, while others are sure of themselves enough to easily kill or maim another – sometimes for very good reasons. There are war veterans, rape victims and parents of children in prison who don't want their children let out of prison. Woodrell doesn't turn it into a parade of horrors, to his credit, and his writing can frequently be exceptionally evocative and quite moving. Not once did I find him to be one of those overwrought "writer's workshop" types who ingest Faulkner and Hemingway, and then try to go them one better while lacking the talent to do so.

There's one particularly experimental story that might rub some soft-paw folks the wrong way called "Woe To Live On", about a dirtbag Civil War-era Confederate murderer looking back on his life in present (1910s), past and way-past sections that skip around between time period. I had to stop and think about this character, with his references to World War I breaking out, and calculate that yeah, I guess a guy who fought in the Civil War in his 20s would be in his 70s when the first Great War broke out. Once I established its plausibility, I let the story seep over me, and it's a great one. Hardened men, ugly men, racist pig-men. No question they existed in real life as these characters do in this story, and it's evocative and disturbing across the board.

Still up in the air in whether I'll let this very good book propel me into going deeper into Woodrell's extensive back catalog of novels. Maybe you can let me know in the comments if it's worth the effort and time.