Every Sunday after church we would head to the grandparents’ houses to visit. First mom’s family then dad’s until we were all visited out. Sweetheart and Papa talked politics and money with my parents while Granny Smith and Paw ran-on about the ole days. One family lived in the here-and-now while the other lived in the past.
I liked the ole stories. Granny Smith and Paw could entertain for days with these crazy uncle and aunt antics. Who cared about tobacco prices?
To encourage Sweetheart’s story telling abilities, I would thumb through the family photo albums and ask her about certain pictures. What is Papa doing? Who is this guy standing next to you? How many brothers and sisters do you have, Sweetheart? Why do none of you look alike?
I thought about this weekly ritual after finishing The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell. My grandmother rarely answered my questions with more than a quick name or two. This got me to thinking…she might not want me to know the answers.
The Outlaw Album is set in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. The short stories involve different families, but it makes one heck of a grim photo album. After each story, I can picture the main character, always the narrator, and place him on a page in my “Outlaw Album.”
One story, set during the Civil War, has a regiment of rebels dressed in union jackets riding the countryside of Missouri unchallenged. At the Sni-A-Bar creek they come across a family stopped to water their team as they travel west. The father hollers a correction to the boy and our narrator notices he is Dutch.
Once the Dutchman proclaims his loyalty to the Union, it is all over for him. The men circle and snare him while one fashions a rope. A discussion flares over the proper noose size, seven or thirteen coils, as the condemned man blathers in the confusion. Once the man swings, his boy runs to his aid and is shot in the back.
The photo I would place in my album would feature our yellow-bellied narrator sitting proudly on his horse with the Dutchman’s lifeless body dangling from a tree.
I love Woodrell. His style of writing is amazing, but this is not a collection for the faint of heart. His outlaws include young girls, rapists, and old men getting away with murder one story after another. Woodrell makes the Ozarks one scary place.