Tuesday, December 14, 2010
69. Muscle for the Wing by Daniel Woodrell
Well this was a pleasant little discovery, found once again at Chainon, my local thrift store. I was up trolling through their english paperback shelves like a cokehead pawing through a shag carpet and stumbled upon this book. It looked intriguing, though I had never heard of the author. Turned out to be a pretty good piece of "bayou noir" fiction (phrase stolen from this review over at The Edge).
The story takes place in St. Bruno somewhere in Cajun country, I guess around the time it was written (1995), though this part of the world is so backward and timeless it could have been anytime after WWII practically. The protagonist is a cop who came up in Frogtown, the rough section where most of the action takes place. But the story is about a small gang of ex-cons who have come into town to hit up the local corrupt power structure. Part of their motivation is that the place has been so under the control of the local crime boss, that everyone's vigilance is down. But they are also following the directives of Ronnie, a local who took a fall for that crime boss, whose swamp-sexy young wife is still in Frogtown. Ronnie and the ex-cons are all part of some minor white supremacist prison gang called The Wing.
The action is tough and efficient, but it's the characters and dialogue that really make this book a pleasure. Though poor and uneducated for the most part, these are people with a history and a rich culture and it shines through in the way they speak with each other and interact. The style reminded of a mix between Charles Willeford and Harry Crews. Though now that I went and did a bit of internet research, it appears that his books all take place in the Ozarks. I didn't know there were Cajuns in the Ozarks (or for that matter where the Ozarks even are beyond Deliverance). In any case, there is a lot of old french influence, both in the names of people, the language used and their criminal culture. There is a neat little aside that talks about a french soldier who was the knee-breaker for the governor in the 18th century who made his own little criminal colony downriver and whose antecedents are still more or less doing the same thing today.
I see also that Woodrell is far from forgotten, as the film of his book Winter's Bone appears to be the new hotness on the "indie" cinema scene. Good for him, because if Muscle for the Wing is representative of the rest of his books, Woodrell is a good writer who doesn't pull his punches. Good stuff.