Saturday, December 31, 2011

..And There Ain't No Way Around It (A World of Hurt)

There are so few perfect sentences in literature. As a poet I'm reminded of this fact often enough, which is perhaps why I've long thought that brevity is best when making an attempt at perfection. There is something extra special about being able to put weight and impact into a single line of prose ; a line that could stand on its own as poetry, or in song. With Daniel Woodrell's collection of short stories, The Outlaw Album, he shows a rare ability to do this rather frequently. His sentences sometimes stop me dead, and force me to think. Not because what was written isn't clear or otherwise confusing - but because it strikes a chord of some truth deep down in whatever it is that makes us human.

To say that this collection of short fiction is grim or sad would be putting it very lightly.  After all Woodrell made his writers bones penning stories of woe and sorrow years ago.  ( I wasn't a reader until recently however). His Bayou Trilogy [ Under The Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, The Ones You Do] was released originally in the late 80's and began his career characterized as country noir. You might also know of Woodrell from Winter's Bone [ the 2006 novel that became the 2010 film of the same name, a Sundance darling that later saw an academy award nomination for Best Picture]   Now, I have read the Bayou books and liked them quite a bit, but it wasn't until I read some of Woodrell's short fiction that I was absolutely sold on his brilliance. The knack for voice was there early on to be sure but I think that it was the shorter works' natural structural limitations that really let his style shine.  Several of the stories in The Outlaw Album are only a few pages long but in those few pages there is heart and soul that most authors can only hope to someday approach.

The setting of Missouri Ozarks figures into a large portion of Woodrell's writing, and this is as true as ever in The Outlaw Album.  The setting is as much a character as any other, and really helps to ground everything in a sense of authenticity. The people in the stories are desperate, if far from innocent, and well acquainted with hardship : From a father who refuses to welcome home a son whose become a poet in prison knowing nothing of the words but too much about where they came from , or a niece who does what she to must pacify a monster. These characters are real, and  believable in both the best and worst ways possible.  

I don't want to give away much of what's here except to say that this collection is one of the finest things I've read in a long time. [as if my sudden return to blogging doesn't say that loudly enough] A Best of the Year candidate without question. A quick read that I flew though in weekend and then actually went back and re-read just so I could dig in to some of those awe-inspiring little passages and ponder.