Jack's Reviews > The Outlaw Album: Stories

The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
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Jan 04, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: jackrecommends, reallygoodstuff
Read in January, 2012

Having read – and loved – Daniel Woodrell’s "Winter’s Bone" and "Woe to Live On" (both among my reviews) I jumped at the chance to see him in person at the main Kansas City Library around Thanksgiving. An LA Times reviewer has referred to Woodrell as an Ozark Faulkner. Calling any author a Faulkner does a disservice to all involved, particularly the one doing the calling. But that’s where we are, I guess. We must compare rather than describe. But I shall now climb off my high horse and say, “not a bad comparision, dude.”

I learned during the introductions that President Obama took Woodrell’s "The Bayou Trilogy" with him on his vacation this summer. After being introduced Woodrell read some from his new short story collection, "The Outlaw Album," which was included in the Kansas City Star’s top 10 works of fiction for 2011.

Following the reading he chatted on stage in easy chairs with Whitney Terrell, author of "King of Kings County", another good read (wordplay intended). During the interview portion, Terrell mentioned that reviewers often refer to his work as dark or bleak. Woodrell replied, “I get called bleak all the time, even by my friends. I don’t see that. There’s some darkness there, but there’s rays of sunshine that poke through the clouds throughout my writing. Others don’t see that though, and my friends say ‘No, Daniel, you’re bleak.”

The Outlaw Album is bleak. Bleak and beautiful. His characters live in the Ozark hills. They mostly live in poverty, sorely tested by the lives they lead. "Ma’s house is a square two-story built plain long ago … It’s an invented shade of white about halfway around the house to where the paint ran out … the rest colored with the paler shades of paint left over in the shed, so it’s one color house seen driving by, several others standing in the yard, colors that don’t rhyme in the eye, but the wood is well coated."

The hills are a place of guns and Bibles and tourists and crystal meth. Life is hard and dangerous. An outsider buys a canoe outfitter and campground on the Twin Forks river complete with bullet-hole riddled tables “kids liked rubbing the holes, sticking their fingers inside while imagining exciting events that led to gunfire erupting on this very spot.” The outsider soon learns the thin line between coexisting with the locals and such an eruption.

A teenage girl head-whacks her rapist uncle with a mattocks that leaves him a near vegetable, then she must care for him as her Ma works long hours. A man is haunted by his experiences in the Gulf war, another one by his in Vietnam. Revenge is common in Woodrell’s Ozark world.
Grim, yes. Bleak, certainly. But the reading of it, the voice, yes, and its rays of sunshine; it’s almost poetry.

"Ma’n me stared silently ‘til the tree frogs went silent and the owls came out to fly. We left the cow at peace finally in the embers, started toward the house, walking slowly through the spreading weeds of our garden plot where nothing got planted this year."
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