Under the Bright Lights by Daniel Woodrell
Goddamn. Since Winter’s Bone came out cinematically long a time ago, I’ve fallen in love with a genre I’ve deemed Midwestern Gothic. I mean, I’ve devoured Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor, who kept things southern. But through those flyover states, have some truly gruesome goodness been birthed. Donald Ray Pollock, Frank Bill, Daniel Woodrell, and Gillian Flynn have become some of my favorite authors, penning these sinister tales of shitkickers and sketchy criminals. Small town as seen through the scope of some truly fucked up cracker asses. And I eat it with a goddamn spoon.
Under the Bright Lights is the first in what Woodrell deemed the Bayou Trilogy, since these stories all take place in the town of St. Bruno, which is either north Louisiana or south Mississippi. For once, this nebulousness works for me. I know it’s swampland shitheels, and I know that it takes place somewhere in the 80’s or 90’s. But it could easily be the 1960’s. It’s strange. Men wander around, drinking all day and shooting pool and committing low level crimes. There’s no cell phones, but there’s kids in Air Jordans. People listen to music from the way back on record players, drinking beer and screwing on their back porches. Sometimes even with their wives or girlfriends.
The first story deals with Rene Shade, of the Shade family, a former boxer/criminal who’s now a cop. A local councilman, a black man, is executed in his home. Shade and his pudgy partner How Blanchette are tasked by the mayor and the captain to pin this on a burglary, even though it all points to a murder by someone he knew. Meanwhile, the local criminal element has hired a young tough to shotgun the man they blackmailed to commit the murder. And so begins this supreme double dealing. Shade’s a good guy who has a tendency towards being a little bad, and he’s dealing with bad guys set in their ways. It’s not quite as compelling as Winter’s Bone, but it’s got a terrific style and feel reminiscent of Ellroy. Racist small town seedy underbelly done up as a cop story.