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The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell

By John J. Kelly · January 31st, 2012 · Lit

He calls his own prose “country noir” and writes about a very unique kind of American: people living their lives with nothing left to lose and operating on a level that many have described as “desperate.” Now, with the publication of 12 devastatingly gritty and somewhat surreal short stories in The Outlaw Album, 57-year-old Daniel Woodrell is finally getting the attention and respect that he deserves.

Woodrell has heeded Hemingway’s famous advice, writing about the land and lore he’s most familiar with. Born in the Missouri Ozarks, his characters are dark, brooding and sometimes deadly. But they are never one-dimensional and often seem to come from a kind corner of a bad neighborhood.

When he’s at his best, Woodrell writes lovingly about the rotten, broken, dying tooth in America’s smile.  

In shockingly authentic stories like “Night Stand,” “Woe To Live On” and “Uncle,” Woodrell invites us inside a house we may have crossed the street to avoid. Once inside, the author is not afraid to introduce us to some of the skeletons in his closet. Many of his characters seem to be created in some kind of crazed cauldron of hell, like the protagonist in “The Echo of Neighborly Bones.” Woodrell opens this strange tale with the line, “Once Boshell finally killed his neighbor, he couldn’t seem to quit killing him,” and that’s a tone that continues through most of the book.

But don’t be fooled into believing that Daniel Woodrell only writes about the unseemly dwellers of the Ozarks. Instead, you’ll discover a merciful nature to many of those we meet in The Outlaw Album. Woodrell’s characters value kinship and loyalty above all else. These are folks who have seen life’s most jagged edges but still remain capable of trust, respect and even, sometimes, the sweet nectar of human kindness. The Outlaw Album reminds us that though his characters walk alone through a dry valley of bones, there’s still love and compassion to be found in the marrow.
Grade: B+



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