The Monday Book: OUT OF THE WOODS by Chris Offutt

I like Offutt’s writing. He was “discovered” by doing the Charlaine Harris teleplays for her vampire series going onto TV, but he wrote several “educated backwoods guy/fish out of water” memoirs before that, and some fiction.

Out of the Woods is some of his early work, and while you can see how his use of language has improved since, these stories are still tight, terse, compact and hard. Sorta like that series on TV, “Hell on Wheels” – no mercy, just character driving plot.

Except in Offutt’s stories here, the mountain backwoods communities of Appalachia may be the driving character in many cases. In the title story of the collection, a man travels out to Nebraska to pick up his brother-in-law, and the whole narrative is pretty much read between the lines of what people are saying and doing. I love writing like that, where the story is told as much as by what’s not said as by what is.

My favorite is “Barred Owl,” which smacks of autobiography, and is a character sketch. As we all know I’m a sucker for well-drawn characters. With amazing economy of words, Offutt depicts a guy who’s half in, half out of the world he lives in, so finely-drawn he could be one of the owl feathers that decorates his cabin. Every little point and feathery piece is there.

Offut might not be for everyone. Frankly, not much happens in these stories. They’re slow, lazy, calm, and all the action is underneath the words. Kind of like a mountain brook – you have no idea how fast or deep the water is until you step into it, and by then it might be too late. Offut’s writing sneaks up on you.


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