Chapter 16
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A Human Thing of Mystery

In his new book, Daniel Woodrell has written a dozen heart-breaking stories of love, death, and revenge

Daniel Woodrell’s The Outlaw Album is a collection of twelve stories of murder, revenge, regret, and a bewildered reaching for some meaning to life. Set in the rough hollows and swift rivers of the Ozarks, these stories explore emotional and physical territory familiar to readers of Woodrell’s acclaimed novels Winter’s Bone, Tomato Red, and The Death of Sweet Mister.

Critics have almost universally loved Woodrell’s novels, and this collection is no outlier. As The New York Times noted in its review of The Outlaw Album, “Woodrell writes about violence and dark deeds better than almost anyone in America today, in compact, musical prose that doesn’t dwell on visceral detail.” Kirkus Reviews concurred: “[B]oy, does Woodrell have a way with words. The first sentence of the first story captures its essence: ‘Once Boshell finally killed his neighbor he couldn’t seem to quit killing him.’” By the end of the six-page story readers are ready to have a whack or two at the corpse themselves.

In “Dream Spot,” a couple driving a lonely mountain road at night pass a hitchhiker and realize it’s a woman. They stop and bicker, just far enough down the road that it’s not clear whether they are actually stopping to pick up the girl. Janet, who’s off her meds, goads Dalrymple with fantasies of the hitchhiker’s “craving” for him—along with jabs about everything else in their thwarted lives—until Dalrymple cracks: “The funk of their lives sometimes wilted Dalrymple, made his vision shrink, this funk mostly the result of having punted earthly ambition, trimmed the wants from life, accepting a kind of decay, a rotted reduction of who they’d been capable of becoming at the start.”

Whether drug-addled criminals or upstanding citizens with secrets, Woodrell’s characters ache with pain and teeter on the edge of violence so human it hurts. Woodrell “writes tough stories about even tougher characters, mostly mired in poverty, scraping a living from the land, feasting on booze, drugs and animals caught in the woods,” The Guardian writes. “These are unruly folk who couldn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks of them and don’t want any interference from outsiders.” The mad narrator of “One United” is a classic example: “The flicker of a bad idea unchallenged can instantly make you swing a sharp instrument of hurt into the area of someone you had ought to love but can’t for a second,” she muses as her sinister male companion threatens a neighboring farmer.

Previously published in outlets ranging from The Missouri Review and Esquire to anthologies such as A Hell of a Woman and Men from Boys, this collection will delight readers who have been waiting six years for Woodrell’s next work, as well as new fans drawn by the popularity of the film version of Winter’s Bone, winner of the 2010 Sundance Festival and nominated for four Academy Awards. Woodrell’s second novel, Woe to Live On (1987), was also adapted for the screen in the 1999 film Ride with the Devil, directed by Ang Lee. A short story by the same name appears in The Outlaw Album, taking the Civil War story of Quantrill’s Raiders a little further.

Woodrell was raised in the Ozarks and dropped out of high school to enlist in the Marines when he turned seventeen. He graduated from college at twenty-seven, received an M.F.A. degree from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and spent a year on a Mitchener Fellowship. He is also the author of three crime novels, which he describes as “country noir.” They have been rereleased in a single volume as The Bayou Trilogy.

Woodrell has spoken frequently about his next—and ninth—novel, The Maid’s Version, a semi-autobiographical story involving a deadly explosion in a small Missouri town. Progress on the novel was set back when the author broke his shoulder in 2011 while gigging for suckers with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain before appearing on Bourdain’s show, No Reservations. The book’s release date has not been set.