The best of Daniel Woodrell, Part 4



In this fourth and final excerpt, we turn once more to "The Ones You Do," the third novel making up  Daniel Woodrell's The Bayou Trilogy.

With a country noir style that stands out in the crime fiction genre, Woodrell writes about people living in the shadows, existing by their own code of whatever-it-takes survival. Moral behavior typically  takes a back seat to other considerations, be they sex, money or even family.

In this scene, John Xavier Shade is on the lam, having robbed his employer and taken the clothes off a dying man in the hospital -- his own father-in-law. He's headed for the steamy Louisiana swamp town of St. Bruno, the town where he abandoned three young boys who've since grown up to become a barkeep, a police detective and a local prosecutor.

When John X. Shade was twenty-three he knocked up two girls in the same summer, so he married the fourteen-year-old. Almost everyone said he'd done the right thing. They were hitched quietly before Labor Day, and the nineteen-year-old left St. Bruno, headed west, and he never had heard if she'd been carrying a son or a daughter. His bobbysoxer wife was named Monique Blanqui and soon gave birth to a son, the first of three. The boy was christened Thomas Patrick but called Tip from the start, and he'd be about forty now. After five years of staid rhythm, the next two sons were born in jump time. John X. had by then ducked out on all but the most salacious domestic responsibilities, leaving Monique to tag names on the new kids, and her tastes ran more to the Gallic than Gaelic so she'd come up with Rene, then Francois.

As John X reaches his destination he steps down out of a battered pickup truck and into the twilight on a local street, a pitiful sight to behold.

The probably dead man's clothes John X. wore had been a decent fit on Grampa Enoch, who, when healthy, had been four inches shorter and thirty pounds heavier than himself. Gray slacks highwatered upstream of his ankles, displaying white socks that drained into low-top black sneakers. His shirt was sunset orange and what was either a plummeting stork or a pirouetting buzzard was sewn over the cigarette pocket. A rumpled shroud of green plaid jacket hung off him like a public act of penance.

With writing like this, no wonder Woodrell draws praise like this from the Kirkus Reviews:

"Characters as screwy and dangerous as any in Elmore Leonard, and a sense of pace and language that never warns you whether a scene or a sentence will end in a burst of poetry or a hail of bullets."

Book cover:

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