The Daniel Woodrell short stories collected in The Outlaw Album have two things in common—they’re set in the Ozark Plateau and they are about violence. It’s the stuff of Ron Rash and Cormac McCarthy, Chris Knight and James McMurtry, Jesco White and Popcorn Sutton.
The stories of The Outlaw Album are short, ranging from as low as 6 pages to as long as 28 pages. The stories generally get longer—and more difficult—as you go. There are also uncommonly strong across the board, only The Horse in Our History leaving me unmoved.
Woodrell makes good use of the POV, switching between first and third person. In Black Step, Woodrell puts in the head of someone crazy; in Two Things, it’s someone dense. The reader’s experience is richer for both. By always putting us in someone’s head, Woodrell is able to make the reader feel the constants of a narrator’s pain and impotent rage.
Each is a story about violence, but, more than that, about the effect that violence has on people—victims, bystanders, and especially those who commit it. The justification of his violence is no solace to Pelham in Night Stand. The mysteries of long done violence continues to haunt the unnamed protagonist in Florianne. Life in the Ozarks is hard; at the time of one of the world wars, a grandfather tells his 12-year-old grandsons they’ve reached the “killing age” (raised in Appalachia many years later, I was just told I was old enough to learn how to “drink and cuss” at that age).
Woodrell occupies a space between Ron Rash and Cormac McCarthy. His writing is darker than the first, not as symbolic or bleak as the second. He uses the hatred and fear of outsiders as a theme, but not as heavily as Rash. Like both, his writing is firmly rooted in a particular place. His prose approaches the poeticism of McCarthy: “The funk of their lives sometimes wilted Dalrymple, made his vision shrink, this funk mostly the result of having punted earthly ambition, trimmed the wants from life, accepting a kind of decay, a rotted reduction of who they’d been capable of becoming at the start.”
Stories: The Echo of Neighborly Bones, Uncle, Twin Forks, Florianne, Black Step, Night Stand, Two Things, The Horse in Our History, Woe to Live On, Dream Spot, One United, Returning the River
5 of 5 Stars.
Steph at Bella’s Bookshelves – review.
Garrett Kenyon at Literary Kicks – review.
Steph Post at her author blog – review.
Caleb Coy at Caleb Coy – review.
Peter Wild by Bookmunch – review.