In Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy, it's quite a whole, full of "last-call Lotharios from along the Redneck Riviera" and folks who say things like "You ever think maybe you're brain-damaged a little bit, there, Slade?" — wonderful, colorful stuff without, however, mugging for the camera. There are no caricatures here, perhaps because Woodrell has such respect and sometimes heartbreaking compassion for his characters.
No caricatures in the matter of place, either. Woodrell's slice of the American South is full of variegated human micro-climates, with insiders, outsiders, and all manner of regional differences and rivalries. It's a much richer and more dynamic and human depiction than one generally gets of that part of America.
The Bayou Trilogy (Mulholland Books) packages three of Woodrell's early novels set in the fictional St. Bruno, Louisiana: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing and The Ones You Do. They're crime novels, and the first two are in rough outline something like Hammett's Red Harvest: outsiders come to a politically corrupt town, try to muscle in, and stir up trouble that includes larceny and murder. But the storytelling is so rich that it feels entirely new.
My only quibble with the first two novels in the trilogy (I've just begun the third) is that the ending to Under the Bright Lights feels just the tiniest bit forced, as if Woodrell could not quite figure out what to have his protagonist do once the action had been resolved. But that doesn't mean much set against what had gone before. I'm ready to rank these books among the great experiences of my reading life.
© Peter Rozovsky 2011