The Outlaw Album: Stories by Daniel Woodrell

Lee Polevoi

The Outlaw Album: Stories by Daniel Woodrell

Little, Brown and Company

176 Pages

 

Filmgoers know of Daniel Woodrell from Winter’s Bone, his novel made into last year’s Academy Award-nominated film.  A few of us hardier souls know his work from long before, both the acclaimed  “country noir” novels set in and around the Ozarks and Woe to Live on, his splendid gothic Western published in 1987 (and filmed by director Ang Lee as Ride with the Devil).  Woodrell’s novel was one of several from the ‘70s and ’80s, including Ron Hansen’s Desperadoes, and stories from Barry Hannah’s legendary Airships, that breathed new life into westerns and paved the way for modern-day works like Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and Patrick DeWitt’s Booker Prize short-listed novel, The Sisters Brothers.

 

In fact, a section from Woe to Live On is featured in this collection, under the same title, and it’s one of this short collection’s true stand-outs.  In 1916, Jake Roedel looks back on his days as part of the notorious Cole Younger gang, a band of marauding Confederates intent on scouring Union forces from the face of the earth.  The novel’s first lines are part of this story and the spell they cast is undeniable:

 

We rode across the hillocks and vales of Missouri, hiding in uniforms of

Yankee blue.  Our scouts were out left flank and right flank, while Pitt

Mackeson and me formed the point.  The night had been long and arduous,

the horses were lathered to the withers, and dust was caking mud to our

jackets.  There had been whiskey through the night, and our breaths

blasphemed the scent of early morning spring … We were making our way

down the slope toward [the river] through a copse of hickory trees full of

housewife squirrels gossiping at our passing, when we saw a wagon

haltered near the stream.

 

“Housewife squirrels”… How can anyone keep from reading on?

 

The ensuing account of shocking violence, told in Roedel’s laconic voice, evokes the bitterness of that era as well as any work of history.  Roedel, the son of an immigrant Dutchman, is forced time and again to prove his allegiance to the rebels, trying to show mercy amid all the wickedness and coming up empty. 

 

Violence, or the threat of it, looms throughout The Outlaw Album.  In “Uncle,” a young woman finally fights back against her pedophile uncle, and must care for him in his brain-dead condition.  Morrow, in “Twin Forks,” runs a general store in the middle of nowhere  as a retreat from the troubling larger world, only to find himself in a stand-off with two machete-wielding meth-heads. 

               

And in one of the most heartbreaking stories, “Florianne,” the tormented narrator states flatly, “If they ever catch who took my daughter, I’ll probably know him.”  His beautiful daughter disappeared without a trace and her father suspects everyone he encounters.  “And sometimes I think, Were there two of them?  Three?  How much of our world is in on this?”

 

Despair fills the pages of The Outlaw Album, but the experience of reading Woodrell’s rough-hewn, lyrical prose more than offsets all of the depravity and woe.

 

Author Bio:

Lee Polevoi, the author of The Moon in Deep Winter, is completing a new novel.

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