I picked up this short volume at a library used book sale for one dollar, and am now so very grateful that I did not spend anywhere near the $24.99 retail price (highway robbery for a book that has a large font and is not even 200 pages long). After reading through it, I got the sense that this collection was hurriedly assembled and released as little more than a cash-grab in the wake of the success of the Oscar-nominated film Winter’s Bone, based upon Daniel Woodrell’s novel. I myself read Winter’s Bone and found it to be decently enjoyable. It was not anything mind-blowing, but was entertaining and had compelling characters and an engaging plot, and was the reason I decided to go a little further down the road with Woodrell’s work.
The Outlaw Album, on the other hand, read like a series of college-level in-class writing exercises, and unfinished ones at that. The majority of these stories felt incomplete, like ideas jotted down but never fleshed out. Very few of them had character, and the characters themselves were not memorable. On certain stories, it seems that Woodrell tried to employ a minimal, jump-cut sort of storytelling that often left me bewildered because the scene changes and implied action made very little sense, as if he was attempting to be dark or ironic by leaving the reader to read between the lines and not quite succeeding.
On a more positive note, I will say that a few of the stories were pretty good and had plot arcs that actually made sense and were interesting. Woodrell also occasionally lucked out with a very strong sentence here and there; vivid, eloquent one-liners full of stark detail or metaphors that landed just right. But those two compliments are about as kind as I can be towards this collection, a book that, believe it or not, I had set out with the expectation to enjoy. Very rarely do I feel the need to rip a book up and down, but this volume came across as an amalgam of largely undeveloped stories that whoever edited them must have barely glanced at before giving them the stamp of approval.
Woodrell’s writing is, in this case, like a second rate Donald Ray Pollock, or a third rate Cormac McCarthy. He has neither the devastating punch nor the literary touch that those men do. If you want some quality Southern fiction with grit as well as heart, read those authors instead.