Daniel Woodrell is able to lend uncanny logic to harsh, even criminal, behaviour in his wrenching first collection of short fiction. Desperation - both material and psychological - motivates his characters. A husband cruelly avenges the murder of his wife's pet; an injured rapist is cared for by a young girl, until she reaches breaking point; a disturbed veteran of Iraq is murdered for his erratic behaviour; an outsider's house is set on fire by an angry neighbour.
There is also the tenderness and loyalty of the vulnerable in these stories - between spouses, parents and children, siblings and comrades in arms - which brings the troubled, sorely tested cast of characters to vivid, relatable life.
In his eight novels, Woodrell (Winter's Bone) has been doing for his native Missouri Ozarks what William Faulkner did for rural Mississippi: introduce readers to a region whose rural residents are too often summarily dismissed in our American consciousness with simplistic stereotypes. The characters in collection of short fiction, Woodrell's first, lead hard, desperate lives that can erupt into violence and tragedy. Despite the simmering tensions among family members, between friends and neighbors, and, especially, towards strangers, however, the criminals in these 12 tales always maintain a simple code of honor as they seek their own brand of justice against those who've crossed them. A man brutally avenges the shooting of his wife's beloved dog by his snobby neighbor; a rapist is incapacitated and then cared for by a young woman until she realizes he's completely beyond redemption; an outsider's splendid new house is torched by an angry neighbor. Woodrell's spare, brutal prose, a kind of "country noir," captures the true essence of a rough little pocket of America's heartland that has yet to be and may indeed never be smoothed over.