THE OUTLAW ALBUM by Daniel Woodrell

Book Quote:

“There was a time I answer. It was a love that any daddy would have. But that was way back. If I love Cecil now it is like the way I love the Korean conflict. Something terrible I have lived through.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (NOV 1, 2011)

Daniel Woodrell is widely known for the movie adaptation of his novel, Winter’s Bone, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Picture Prize in 2010. He has just published his first book of short stories, The Outlaw Album, a collection of twelve dark and riveting stories.

Desperation – both material and psychological– motivates his characters. There is an element of moral decay and hopelessness to these stories, most taking place in the rural area of the Ozarks. I found a certain similarity in theme to the great writer, Donald Ray Pollock. Both writers attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

“The Echo of Neighborly Bones” is a haunting story of a man who murders his neighbor for killing his wife’s dog. Once his neighbor is dead, he kills him over and over again in different ways – as though his anger cannot be assuaged.

I found “Twin Forks” to be the most powerful story in the collection. It begins, “A cradle won’t hold my baby. My baby is two hundred pounds in a wheelchair and hard to push uphill but silent all the time. He can’t talk since his head got hurt, which I did to him. I broke into his head with a mattocks and he hasn’t said a thing to me nor nobody else since.” The baby is the narrator’s uncle, her mother’s brother. He is a serial rapist who the narrator catches raping a coed in the barn. The narrator, too, has been a victim of her uncle’s incestuous rapings. She beats his head in and then must care for him in his vegetative state. There comes a time when she realizes that even in a wheel chair and not talking, he remains evil.

“Florianne” is a haunting story of a man whose seventeen year-old daughter was kidnapped eleven years ago. His world is comprised of his trying to figure out who the kidnapper is. He suspects that it must be someone he knows or it could be anyone. His world is consumed by his suspicions.

In “Back Step,” Daren is at home recuperating from injuries he received in the war in the middle east. His mother is dying of cancer and Darden is plagued by memories of death and devastation that he witnessed. His big job at home is to kill a cow that has a broken leg, and then to dispose of the cow’s body by burning it.

“Night Stand” is one of the stronger stories in the collection. One night as Pelham and his wife lay asleep, a naked man appears at the foot of their bed growling. Pelham grabs a knife that happens to be on his night stand and stabs the growling man twice, killing him. He later finds out that that the man he killed is a disturbed veteran and also the son of a childhood friend. Pelham obsesses over the knife – how did it find its way to his night table?

“Two Things” is a powerful story. Cecil has been a bad egg all his life. Currently, he is in jail for thievery. He also has a history of violence. A woman who works with him in some educational or social work capacity in jail, visits Cecil’s father and shows him a book of poetry that Cecil has written. She believes that Cecil has a rare talent and wants Cecil’s father to allow Cecil to come home and live with him as part of his probation. Many of the poems are about crimes that Cecil has committed against his father. The woman believes that these rage-filled poems are amends for his wrong-doings. Cecil’s father isn’t quick to believe that Cecil has really changed and does not want Cecil living with him.

I enjoyed “Dream Spot” a lot and it still haunts me. Janet asks Dalyrimple to stop and pick up a female hitchhiker. As Dalyrimple prepares to do this, Janet begins to have delusions that this unknown woman is the love of Dalyrimple’s life. A simple act of picking up a hitchhiker leads to tragic consequences.

In “Returning the River,” a man on parole from jail burns down his neighbor’s house so that his dying father can regain his view of the river which the neighbor’s house has obscured.

The stories in this collection are raw and disturbing, leaving the reader with questions and a sense of being creeped out. They create goose bumps and a sense of uneasiness. The characters seem to have no moral center and are lost to what we think of as “normal.” Woodrell has a natural way of creating an ambiance of what it is like to be mentally ill or live outside the circle of normalcy.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 31 readers
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (October 5, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Daniell Woodrell
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:



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November 1, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Short Stories, US South

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