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Who to Read: Daniel Woodrell

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A guest post by Kathy Stowe (HoCoPoLitSo’s Program Coordinator)

Searching for authors to take me through the rabbit hole into a new world has been an unending but rewarding task since I was old enough to walk the mile to the local library, the summer after third grade.  When I saw the movie Winter’s Bone, I knew I had to seek out Daniel Woodrell. Rarely have I been so rewarded. Woodrell conveys in just a sentence an entire world, an unfamiliar but believable territory that exists somewhere frighteningly close.  It’s Neil Gaiman without the alternative universe.

William Boyle, in a review of the recently released movie Tomato Red, also based on one of his novels, called Woodrell “the battle-hardened bard of meth county.” An apt description for a man described as a “lady stinger of a writer” by E. Annie Proulx on the book jacket review of Woodrell’s 1996 Give Us a Kiss: A Country Noir.  Even the book’s title gives you a little shiver, conjuring up images of a perverted uncle.  The lady stinger, a “little black thirty-two” tucked into a blue pillowcase that held his traveling clothes, accompanies Doyle Redmond on his family errand into the Ozarks to convince his older brother, Smokes, to turn himself into the law even though “us Redmonds have never been the sort of bloodline who’ll give up our kin easy to the penitentiary.”

In Give Us a Kiss, this particular Redmond, Doyle, has just one true love, “following his fantasies out and scribbling them down … telling stories … big wet whoppers” that “ … eventually … shade toward truth.”  Having escaped the academic world in a stagnant pond-green Volvo listed on the hot sheets as yellow, Doyle has left behind the world of four published novels nobody much had read.  He’s also left behind the Volvo’s owner, his two-timing wife who had “been in a frenzy to be a poet both revered and lusted after … .  A hybrid of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carolyn Forché, and Gypsy Rose Lee.”

A quick check reveals Woodrell lists four published novels, meaning another tendency of mine, rummaging about in favored authors’ lives, might get a satisfying scratch.  Lists of books carried in a box along with the pillowcase of clothes and the lady stinger, and references to authors, music and Doyle’s own writing process offer possibly slightly veiled autobiographical insight into the rather reclusive, fascinating mind of Daniel Woodrell.  I too take great joy in looking under rocks to imagine, examine and describe the “dashingly scuzzy dudes,” just for the joyride of it.

Oh, and as in other Woodrell novels, sex and the Dollys are involved.  The newest novel released as a film, Tomato Red (2017), and Winter’s Bone (2010) also feature the Dollys, a legendary clan of criminal persuasion, another backwoods family tribe who aren’t nearest and dearest to the Redmonds.  Sex in the form of Doyle’s attraction to Niagra, Smokes’ girlfriend’s (Big Annie) 19-year-old daughter who tells him, “I believe we got the makings of a dream that’ll burn mighty hot, Doyle, you’n me.”

Woodrell’s ability to transport the reader to another world includes transforming words to smells and taste.  Squirrel meat soaked in buttermilk doesn’t make my mouth water until he describes the old Folger’s can of bacon grease, burger leavings and whatever “from a United Nations of edible critters” that Big Annie cooks it in.

Woodrell, an author who is “…not the type who can exclude people socially just because they operate under some bad habits,” creates a world of memorable characters.  He describes a neighborhood where “Some old boy across the road and down a few houses kept up a racket trying to cut the grass of his entire yard with a Weedwhacker.  He stopped and dragged an ice chest along behind him after every five or six paces of whacking.” His evokes a believable world with unbelievable skill. This post aimed to give the reader enough of a taste to want to check out one of our best American writers.  Start with Give Us A Kiss … .

 

 

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