Daniel Woodrell’s The Outlaw Album is a collection of 12 short stories that offer a desolate investigation of individuals residing on society’s fringe. The characters throughout do not represent feel good heroes or heroines, but those who struggle to cope with what their environment has provided for them. Throughout the collection Woodrell focuses on the grittiness of society. He explores many themes, which include the consequences of war, both past and present; and the effects of sexual abuse, poverty, and traumatic loss.
Woodrell makes no apologies for the actions of his characters. In “Uncle,” one of the more gritty and unrepentant stories in the collection, a young girl grows tired of her uncle’s sexual abuse. After being raped and witnessing other rapes performed by her uncle, the young girl violently and unremorsefully paralyzes the man with a pickaxe. She is then forced by her mother to tend to him. She embarks on a mission to make him suffer for his transgressions until eventually taking steps to enact her final revenge upon him.
Another pinnacle from the collection includes “Night Stand.” The story investigates the psychological damage both past and current wars create, as a young war veteran breaks into the home of a veteran from a past war. The story centers around the lack of understanding civilians have for soldiers either returning from war or those dealing with the trauma from past conflicts.
Woodrell does an amazing job of maintaining a connection to society’s dark and actively dismissed dilemmas. At points, however, his writing style slows to a painful crawl and becomes experimental and distracting. “The Horse in Our History” employs a writing style that relies on first hand oral transcriptions of an event and first person narration that tries to connect the past to the present. While interesting, the stylistic choice breaks the momentum created throughout the preceding stories and may distract the reader from noticing the story’s connection to the collection’s overall theme.
While all of the stories investigate a gritty truthfulness that we all would like to hide from, Woodrell’s meticulous attention to the psychology of his characters and their surrounding environment makes for a culturally significant addition to our literary heritage.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.