Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell

The Bayou Trilogy: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do"...there was Frogtown, the white-trash Paris, where the wide brown flow of rank water scented all the days, and everfy set of toes touched bottom."
Flecks of dried blood and dirt stick equal in Woodrell’s look at small town where multiple criminal entities thrive on their unlawful activities. The down trodden and hopeless sense of conformance with poverty is delivered in poetic-like fashion. Equal billing to the just and unjust alike is given throughout the trilogy to paint a picture perfect glimpse at ‘criminalities’.
"I've been poor so long it doesn't bother me anymore, and that's as much peace of mind as a Rockerfeller's got."
Woodrell writes in a language so few can emulate. His voice is distinct yet similar enough to evoke a sense of modernised noir. Aside from Megan Abbott, I can’t think of another author who comes close. His works within country noir are better delivered yet the tone and prose of ‘The Bayou Trilogy’ remain true, to a certain extent, of the formula.
Opening with a police procedural in ‘Under The Bright Lights’ Woodrell introduces Shade – a cop (and former boxer), a DA, and a criminally affiliated barman – brothers who provide an interesting mix which could’ve been exploited further over the course of the proceeding books. Called in to investigate the shooting of a black politician made out to be a case of robbery gone badly, Shade soon learns of cover-ups and hidden agendas. Given the opportunity to tote the company line or play it honest, Shade is forced to make a decision damning him either way. ‘Under The Bright Lights’ was a decent enough read which hinted at the hallmarks of a Woodrell noir yet focusing on the more procedural aspects of the story.
‘Muscle for the Wing’ offers up more of the same in a sense that the story is part police procedural and part criminal POV. The second of the Shade books did little to highlight the unique family ties of the three professionally distinct brothers and could be read well as a stand alone. This both pleased and annoyed me. I think I would’ve liked to have read this aside from the trilogy – as I read it in this collection I was hoping for more continuity than what Woodrell presented.
'The Ones You Do' encapsulated that heavy character driven story Woodrell is most known for in 'Tomato Red' and 'Winter's Bone' where the emphasis isn't on a crime itself, rather the repercussions and the victim/instigator's reaction directly following. John X. father to the Shade brothers is a girfter always on the look out for a quick score. In returning to Frogtown, he’s not only brought with him his young daughter but that of raging madman hell bent on revenge. What follows is an interesting family dynamic as John X gets reacquainted with his sons while keeping his more nefarious activities completely aside. ‘The Ones You Do’ was the best in the trilogy – definite re-read appeal.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with ‘The Bayou Trilogy’. I was hoping for more country noir than police procedural (re: the first two books) and while ‘The Ones You Do’ redeemed the collection I was left wanting more. The Shade brothers were well written and had the capacity to form a unique story in their own right, I only wish Woodrell had put his talents towards those three accompanied by a plot which infused their respective professions and pitted them against one another. That said, I still enjoyed ‘The Bayou Trilogy’ but I’d be recommending new readers towards Woodrell’s other books prior to picking this one up. 3 stars.

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