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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Bayou Trilogy, by Daniel Woodrell ($16)

The Bayou Trilogy is a compilation of three works by Daniel Woodrell, published between 1986 and 1992: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do.

Set in Louisiana bayou country -- reeking of atmosphere, tawdriness, two-bit criminals, and hardasses -- Woodrell doesn't so much write a novel as produce an epic poem. For instance, Woodrell describes where Detective Rene Shade lives:

"In the aspiring self-mythology of Saint Bruno, a town that liked to refer to itself as a baby Chicago, there were grapevine Roykos and street-corner Sandburgs who found odd connections between the Windy City on the Lake and the Wheezing Town on the River."

And, again, in one of the best opening lines of a fourth chapter ever:

"The spiteful heat of summer turned sullen reached Voltaire Street early. Sun-faded blinds flapped up on dusty front windows as "Closed" signs were flipped and brown-bag lunches were stashed beneath countertops by optimists seeking coolness for their tuna fish. Delivery men, customers, and owners had gotten the message that the bad sun sent out and slowed to lessen the punishment that any hint of speed would draw. Summer was the mean season along the river, the air thick as syrup, and the sky a lowdown fog that held in the torture."

Rene Shade is the central character. We also meet his wildly different family members, morally ambiguous fellow lawmen, and criminals of varying mindsets and intellect who cross his path.

This is Louisiana noir at its best, complete with cajun and Southern patois. At times, however, Woodrell's pages are logy with words. One forgets the beginning of the thought by the time of its completion. Nevertheless, this is stylish writing. As a matter of fact, it drips and sweats style. His narrative moves with an undulating rhythm. Words pile up and then fall on you. It almost doesn't matter what the hell the story is about. Almost.

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