Genre: Literary/Country Noir
Daniel Woodrell, not unlike Iggy Pop, gets leaner and meaner as he's growing older. He's never been the one to write epic eight-hundred pages novels, but with THE OUTLAW ALBUM, he's outdoing himself on every level*. It's a hundred and sixty-seven pages of relentless short stories about broken and dispossessed people, trying to get through the day by any means necessary. While his themes remain faithful to what he always writes about, one doesn't really read Woodrell for the thematics alone. It's an aesthetic trip, like reading Raymond Carver or Ernest Hemingway. THE OUTLAW ALBUM is full of these beautiful, courageous and and slightly darkened people we love to read about in Daniel Woodrell stories. Some of them felt more real then some people I know. Woodrell is a magician at finding tiny, delicate things, buried under four feet of dirt and THE OUTLAW ALBUM is a great addition to his legacy.
My favorite story of the collection is titled BLACK STEP, in which the narrator Darden is caught up in a difficult family situation. She way Woodrell portrays the family through the eyes of his narrator is stunning. The description he makes of his parents is one of the most beautiful things I've read in months, maybe years. I don't quote often, but this one is worthwhile:
They tell me Dad committed suicide for reasons he dreamed up. His mind was too active. He had a round mind and it roamed. He could imagine any kind of hurt. He could imagine the many miseries of this world flying over from everywhere to roost between his ears, but he couldn't imagine how to get away. Ma loved him passed his end and has never kissed another man. She loved his mind, his round, roaming mind that made her feel a glowing inside her skin between those spells of blight (p.50-51)
Other stories captured my imagination as well, like UNCLE where a young girl has to take care of her once abusive uncle who was turned into a vegetable or WOE TO LIVE ON, which is the longest story of the collection (about thirty-five pages) and has just enough weight to its pages to keep you turning them at a steady rhythm. He savantly mixes delicate beauty and fatality together and makes his stories bounce of the page. It's quite the experience in reading immersion.
It's strange because it's kind of a business-as-usual success for Daniel Woodrell, so I feel I have already said everything I need to say about him. He's an expert craftsman that takes care of every detail with the minutiae of a miniature model builder. His stories are not aggressive and when they are violent, it's told with enough distance that it's more of an echo than an immediate drama. THE OUTLAW ALBUM is another amazing book by Daniel Woodrell and while he doesn't get out of his comfort zone, he makes it comfortable for his readers too. It's lean and mean enough so that everybody can enjoy them. It's a very hospitable book, if there is such a thing. Want to try out Daniel Woodrell? Give THE OUTLAW ALBUM a shot.
* As far as the Woodrell books I have read.