Outlaw in this album is tantamount to outlier...for the most part.
Well, ok: There is the story of the guy who killed his neighbor, multiple times, and the 17 year old girl kidnapped while mowing a yard, and the jockey beat with 2 x 4s before being left on the railroad track, the guy who rode with Quantrill and Coleman Younger, and the guy who burned his neighbor's house down because it blocked his bed-ridden father's view of a river. So, yeah, these actions, and others Woodrell recounts here, technically are criminal activities, the actions of outlaws.
But each of these characters have been rooted in mainstream Ozark society. Good people. Good neighbors. Good parents. They became outlaws when they were pushed to the periphery of their world. It's important to recognize that while browsing through this album Woodrell presents these characters to us not just as people, but as characters in whose minds we're comfortable because of the beauty of Woodrell's prose, and because in a twisted way they react to the world in a way the reader accepts, even as there's a voice in the back of our mind shouting: no, no, no.
The stories are narrated from within the mind of either the subject, or someone close to the action described. Woodrell makes the reader quite comfortable in the minds of his characters. Shooting a neighbor because he shot your dog doesn't seem so outlandish. Nor does pushing a sexual predator to his death. I found myself wondering as I read: just how far removed are these characters from those of us living closer to the center of acceptable norms?
And as every good short writer should, Woodrell twists each story at the end. These are revelations that galvanize each story, often to the point where the reader has to take a breath and stop, such as the revelation at the end of The Horse in our History.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am no fan of Woodrell's writing. I also recently acquired The Bayou Trilogy and cannot get into it if it was the last book on earth. When Woodrell writes long, it seems to me, his writing gets flabby. There's lots of dialogue and explanation that does not advance the story, in this reader's eyes, anyway.
That's not the case in Outlaw Album. The writing often is a stream of poetry. With the proverbial few brush strokes, tone, and other artistic touches, Woodrell makes these outliers authentic and credible.
I have two regrets after reading this album: 1) that Woodrell doesn't write this well when he writes novels; and 2) that this book is so thin.
Come Christmas, I'll definitely include this one in my box of books to family and friends.