Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell
This one’s one of Woodrell’s earliest, a novel written during the publication of the Bayou trilogy. It’s set during the Civil War, and it involves a fictional bushwhacker brigade that works in tandem with Quantrill’s Raiders in the guerilla warfare brigades out on the Missouri-Kansas border. It mixes fact and fiction, written from the perspective of Roedel, a Dutch immigrant son fighting for the confederacy.
It’s brutal and unflinching, in language and depiction of violence. Men are hung and left to rot, children are shot through the back, wounds fester and die. One character gets shot through the cheek and spends the rest of the book slurring through a mouth that no longer works. Our heroes aren’t heroic by any stretch of the imagination, but neither are the Unionists. It seems that the history books gloss over the fact that everyone was pretty much a son-of-a-bitch during the Civil War, suffering vicious wounds, infections and pretty much wandering the countryside, burning everything to the fucking ground, killing the menfolk and doing it in someone else’s clothes.
Woodrell uses real events and real soldiers to populate his tale, or takes liberties while staying in the lines. The raiders get involved in Quantrill’s vengeance charge on Lawrence, Kansas to smite the motherfucking Jayhawkers after they collapsed a women’s prison and murdered good Christian southern women.
The fault in the tale is that it is kind of meandering, wandering and less taut than his usual narratives. Most of his work goes from smolder to explosion, and while there’s still this freneticism, it’s done at such a langorous pace. Still, a well done work, just not among my favorite Woodrell works.