The Outlaw Album: Stories

By Daniel Woodrell

(Little, Brown and Company, $24.99, 176  pages)

Who is this author?

If you saw the harsh but gripping 2010 film “Winter’s Bone,” a quadruple Academy Award nominee about a teenage girl in the Ozark Mountains who’s trying to find her meth-making daddy in order to save her family home, then you already know the work of novelist Daniel Woodrell, who wrote the 2006 novel on which that film was based.

If not, you can take a rewarding trip into Woodrell’s world in his story collection, “The Outlaw Album.” This author grew up and still lives in the Missouri Ozarks, but don’t dismiss him as a hillbilly: rural sophisticate is more like it. Woodrell himself uses the term “country noir” to describe his dark, often violent stories. He’s published eight novels, and five of them gained the coveted designation of “New York Times Notable Book of the Year.”

What is this book about?

“The Outlaw Album” is composed of a dozen stories, and death, despair and desperation figure prominently in their plots: a girl temporarily shelters a rapist, a husband enacts revenge for the killing of his wife’s pet, an angry neighbor burns down a stranger’s fancy new house. But please don’t let that keep you from sampling Woodrell’s dark country brew: while these are not happily-ever-after stories, they are compelling tales of good people breaking bad. What you get ihere, critics say, is what you might read if authors like Raymond Carver or Cormac McCarthy spent some serious time in the hills and hollers.

Why you’ll like it:

Fascinating, heartbreaking characters are Woodrell’s specialty, along with an insider’s look at a tightly-knit, isolated part of the country quite different from the urban and suburban Northeast we know so well. He has that precious thing all authors strive for: an original voice. As reviewer Donald Harrington put it in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “the music coming from Woodrell’s banjo cannot be confused with the sounds of any other writer.”  These stories are a fine introduction to an American writer who should be better known to American readers.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “The characters in this collection of short fiction, Woodrell’s first, lead hard, desperate lives that can erupt into violence and tragedy. Despite the simmering tensions among family members, between friends and neighbors, and, especially, towards strangers, however, the criminals in these 12 tales always maintain a simple code of honor as they seek their own brand of justice against those who’ve crossed them.”

“Woodrell’s Old Testament prose and blunt vision have a chilly timelessness that suggests this novel will speak to readers as long as there are readers,” says The New York Times.

“The lineage from Faulkner to Woodrell runs as deep and true as an Ozark stream in this book…his most profound and haunting work yet,” says The Los Angeles Times.

When is it available?

“The Outlaw Collection” is on the shelves at the Hartford Public Library.

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