Monday, February 27, 2012

The Outlaw Album

The Ozarks, and poor white folks, are just as foreign to most crime-fiction readers as Botswana, Cape Town, Shanghai, and Stockholm, so Daniel Woodrell belongs here.

The Outlaw Album is an apt title because its dozen selections are more vignettes than stories, like snap shots in a photo album. (If you forget what a photo album is, look for a picture of one in your "Pictures" folder or on one of the popular search engines.)

The most heartbreaking sentence in the collection so far? This, from "Florianne," about a man whose daughter has disappeared years before:
"At the opening of each deer season I hope this time she’ll be found."
Look what Woodrell does with that sentence. He lets us know that the setting is rural and its people are hunters. He lets us know that the man has been looking for his daughter a long time, and that the futile hope has become as natural and as recurring as the seasons. It's like Beckett's "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on," but without the middle step.

(I write about Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy — which I read before Barack Obama let the world know that he had read it — here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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21 Comments:

Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Sounds great. I like Appalachian settings, too, probably because I live around those parts. There are plenty of parallels with the Ozark people.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

At least Appalachian people get credit for having invented country music back when country was good.

Have you read Woodrell before? The Ozarks are his usual setting, but the only previous work of his I'd read was set in the Louisiana Bayou country.

February 27, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Once Boshell finally killed his neighbor he couldn't seem to quit killing him

I'm curious. How does Woodrell have Boshell kill his neighbor the second time?

Blogger does seem to be intent on fixing what wasn't broken.

February 27, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

The falling wet slicked his hair back

Any writer who would replace the word rain with the phrase 'the falling wet' deserves to have some lead fall through his head at considerable velocity so he can be put out of his authorial misery.

Woodrell is an alumnus of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. So this is how they teach people to write now. God help us.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

How does he have Boshell kill his neighbor a second and subsequent time? Just guess. You'll likely be right.

I agree with you about Blogger's unnecessary improvements, though some of the improvements are not just unnecessary but a nuisance.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The sentence also tells us that the girl has likely been murdered and her body will likely be found in the woods. That sentence does a lot of work.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo

How you kill someone again is by shooting them a second or a third time out of rage. "kill him/it again " is Ulster Scots dialect for "shoot him/it" again. I'm surprised you couldn't have worked that one out.

"Falling wet" is also a very common cant rural Ulster phrase for rain.

Perhaps it would be easier for you if authors only wrote in upper class BBC English. I'll send a memo around.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that sentence is reminiscent of "For sale, baby shoes, never used," isn't it?

February 27, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yup. Hemingway's best short story. Apart from Up in Michigan obviously.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

For sale. Double bed. Never used.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know "Up in Michigan," though I like this brief description of the story: "A young woman's romantic notions of life are crushed over the course of a night."

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

For sale. Wedding dress. Never worn.

February 28, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

"Falling wet" is also a very common cant rural Ulster phrase for rain

I'll defer to you on Ulster cant, Adrian. Indeed, I'll defer to you on cant, in general. But we're not in Ulster anymore. We're in the Ozarks now. And while Ulster emigrants might have influenced language in the Ozarks I doubt if 'falling wet' is used as a synonyn for rain. The phrase 'falling wet snow' is fairly common, but in the story rain is clearly meant. But in picking on 'falling wet,' I was merely choosing something representative of Woodrell's style. I could have chosen a thousand other things.

Then he sank the hatchet into the chest area

The distinction between the chest and the chest area eludes me. Putting high-voltage lyricism and poeticism into prose, as Woodrell does, is a high-wire act. To pull it off you have to be right all the time: one slip-up and you're dead. Combining that kind of lyricism with jargon like 'the chest area' can only provoke paroxysms of laughter in anybody who likes a stylish use of language.

How you kill someone again is by shooting them a second or a third time out of rage. "kill him/it again " is Ulster Scots dialect for "shoot him/it" again. I'm surprised you couldn't have worked that one out

The Woodrell story is called The Echo of Neighborly Bones (ah, such a poetic title, just you don't love those echoing bones). I wouldn't recommend reading it, but to talk sensibly about it, it helps if you have read it. With your love of lyricism, Adrian, you'd probably love it.

For most of a week Boshell was content with killing his neighbor just once, then came a wet spattering Sunday...so he snuck away to the pile...Boshell hunted a stout stick and thumped the corpse

I've heard of blood spatter, but rain spatter or snow spatter? I like the mot juste as much as anybody but a 'wet spattering Sunday' is trying way too hard to be clever. If that man isn't careful he'll give himself a hernia. I know criminals are supposed to return to the scene of the crime but the behaviour of the character in the Woodrell story is absurd. Murder is a nasty business but Woodrell's grotesquery romantisizes and sentimentalizes it.

Sorry about the length of this comment, Peter, but it's a wet spattering Tuesday here in Dublin and I've nothing better to do. I hope it's not spattering too heavily there in Philidelphia

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I don't begrudge you your spattering verbiage. This injunction of yours is well worth remembering whether or not one believes Woodrell is guilty:

"Putting high-voltage lyricism and poeticism into prose, as Woodrell does, is a high-wire act. To pull it off you have to be right all the time: one slip-up and you're dead."

February 28, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Have you read Winter's Bone, Peter? I've a copy lying around the house (what a wonderfully ambiguous word 'lying' is)

I haven't read it. I was stumped by the quotation that preceeds the book, by that famous Ozarkian poet Cesare Pavese.

To cover the houses and the stones with green — so the sky would make sense — you have to push down black roots into the dark

I've tried and I've tried, but no matter how hard I try I just can't make sense of this. Perhaps, you can help, Peter.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but out of context, that passage makes no sense to me.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I have not read Winter's Bone. The only Woodrell I'd previously was the Bayou trilogy, the first two books of which I quite liked, the third of which I liked less.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo

Have you ever been to Ozarks? I have. Not only do the people talk and use the dialect of their Ulster Scots ancestors but the landscape and the folkways are similar too. If you're interested I can't recommend the book Albion's Seed highly enough.

I too found the "chest area" line funny. That's because it's a joke. One of the things I like about people from the Northern Ireland back country and Appalachia is their brilliant facility with black humour. It's often lost on the more "sophisticated" city folk of Dublin, London, New York et. al.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I heard elaborate humor from a train staff member in Carrickfergus and great good humor from a bus driver in County Tyrone. Nothing particularly black, though.

February 28, 2012  
Blogger May said...

Someone should have put a spoiler warning at the top of the comments...

Falling wet... it makes me think of a place where it rains constantly, mostly in dribbles, keeping everything slick with a fresh coat of water all the time. The wet ground is indistinguishable from the wet shoes, the wet walls, the wet clothes, the wet hair, the falling wet.

March 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yikes! Where's the spoiler?

I feel drenched just from reading your comment.

March 06, 2012  

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