Friday, September 30, 2011

The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell

There are only a handful of writers whose work I've read more or less in its entirety. Daniel Woodrell is one of them. The Outlaw Album is his long-awaited book of short-stories.  Long awaited by me and  all those who over the years have become hopelessly addicted to Woodrell's fiction. Published in various periodicals, the stories  more or less  take up where novels like Winter's Bone and The Death of Sweet Mister and Tomato Red  leave off, and are set, as one might expect, in and around the Ozarks. Mostly they are about the people- mostly men- who scratch out a living in the region, many of whom, whether by circumstance or desire, do their best to stay on the cultural margins. One gets the impression that it's in the short story format that Woodrell is best able to experiment with words, perspective and narrative voices. Therefore these stories cover a range of topics and depict people in various states of dissolution:  a man kills a neighbor not just once but whenever the spirit moves him;  a woman who teaches writing in prison tries to convince a disbelieving father that their son is a talented poet rather than simply a good for nothing thief; a young woman finds herself caring for her rapist uncle;  a man is threatened with death because in his youth he saw and rejected a beautiful girl; a man attempts to come to terms with his daughter's disappearance;  a man kills a disturbed intruder who happens to be the son of his oldest friend; another man drives his disturbed girlfriend off a cliff. Then there is the seemingly autobiographical story about a horse, a jockey and the father of Daniel-the-narrator, which reads like a personal investigation of the region's recent past. And another story, Woe to Live On, is quite likely the original story on which Woodrell based his novel of the same name. In all, the stories might be geographically similar, but they vary greatly  in subject and style. As disturbing as some are, these stories are multi-layered and lyrical,  invariably rendered with dignity and  a touch of humor.  I've never before taken seriously comparisons between Woodrell and Faulkner, mainly because I find it difficult to compare anyone with Faulkner.  But, for the first time, I have to admit the notion has some merit. If you like Woodrell's novels, you'll love this book. And if you don't know his work, then you've been missing something  special, so you might as well start here.

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