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Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell
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Woe to Live On (original 1987; edition 2012)

by Daniel Woodrell, Ron Rash (Foreword)

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139686,313 (4.14)52
Member:alcottacre
Title:Woe to Live On
Authors:Daniel Woodrell
Other authors:Ron Rash (Foreword)
Info:Back Bay Books (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Historical Fiction

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Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell (1987)

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I hadn't planned on reading any Civil War books this year but I am reading all of Woodrell's works and have had this on order with my library for close to a year now. So it was a welcome surprise when it showed up with my library holds! While this is an historical fiction Civil War book it is like none I've ever read before, nor expect to ever read again. Not so much a story of the war itself as it is of a small group of southern men fighting independently as raiders, most are from southern states, a few are from neutral states and one is a black man based on a real photograph of Quantrill's Raiders. This story doesn't take anybody's side as being the right one, neither side is the courteous one. Told from the southern point of view, these men and boys fight because they believe in their cause or because it's what they want to do. As raiders they've chosen not to follow the rule of the military and are hard-knuckle folk who shoot to kill and raid for the rewards. Fresh young Jake Roedel is the main character and the story is told through his eyes. Jake learns to kill, lynch, shoot in the back, raid and pillage all because if he doesn't first, "they" will. At some point he realises that "they", the Yanks, are no different than him in a human way but also no different in that if he doesn't shoot first he'll drop dead first. There is no honour among killers. The black man, Holt, plays a strange role in the story first belonging to one of the men but in an equal relationship with him and then actually befriending our young Jake. The N-word is used superfluously until by the end of the book one has become desensitized to it. There is blatant racial prejudice and at other times as Jake and Holt become friends, between them Holt will always be the n-, but it is as if it were left-handedness rather than race that makes them "different" in Jake's eye, but Holt himself knows his identity is bound up in his race even when it comes to friendship. A very real book, written as if of the time period. The author holds back on nothing never trying to appease political correctness, the south or the north. The attitudes are all here as they were back in the 1860s. A brutish, hard, difficult story that does not end without some redemption and hope for its characters. A fine piece of writing. ( )
  ElizaJane | Oct 20, 2013 |
Living in a community where we celebrate Bushwhacker Days, I have been wanting to read this novel for a long time but have not been able to find it. The movie is excellent; the book is gripping and raw.

Daniel Woodrell does not editorialize or put thoughts into the characters' minds. He merely presents events without embellishment; the reader can decide what to think. I believe this is probably one of the best descriptions of the lawlessness and violence that accompanied the Civil War -- violence without cause or belief to justify it.

To my grandmother, who was borm just after the Civil War, the worst thing you could call someone was to call them a Bushwhacker. I understand why. Woodrell does an excellent job in painting a pretty ugly picture. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 23, 2013 |
Jake Roedel and his revenge-driven posse of vigilantes are riding through Missouri doing what they can to further the Rebel cause in the Civil War. As Jake tells the reader in this first person account, they "were afield, feeling wolfish, searching for victims. They were in good supply." (21) The First Kansas Irregulars were outnumbered so they spent more time hiding than fighting the Yanks. "There were so many of them that we could be but a wrong nail in their boots, painful to walk on but not crippling." (70)

It's difficult to read about the casual violence that took place in the cracks between the major battles of the Civil War. As the war progressed, the killing and sorrow built up turning a 16-year-old boy toward "a new territory of the soul." (147) Jake was buoyed up by friendship with his "near brother" Jack Bull Chiles and his growing fondness of Holt, a black man fighting for the cause.

This is an early book by Daniel Woodrell, the Missouri "country noir" writer, and it shows his skillful way with words and his understanding of human nature. He doesn't leave us hanging in a hopelessly violent world. As Jake says, "Hope, I was learning, is a hardy comrade but not too trustworthy." (131) It may not have been trustworthy but hope was always there and lead Jake into taking a moral stand against an immoral time in our history. ( )
3 vote Donna828 | Apr 14, 2012 |
Not your typical novel of the Civil War. There are no great battles--this is guerrilla warfare in Missouri and Kansas, and boy, is it a mess.
Once again (although this was one of his earlier works), Woodrell has put together a story of the grainier side of the Ozarks, during the Civil War, in a state that doesn't really know what side it's on. Jake Roedel is a sixteen year old "secesh," riding with his best friend and a group of other outlaws determined to eliminate as many Federalists and Jayhawkers as they possibly can, and as brutally as they possibly can. Jake begins to question what's really important to him, but how do you escape this kind of war?
Woodrell's writing is magical. He has a way of moving the story along at a pace that makes it nearly impossible to put down, even when you don't think you can handle one more description of a gunshot wound. It's rough, but worth the read. And I especially love the Runyonesque speech of these characters: "I don't know that the time is yet right for robbing wholesale" and "I think it is as right as two rabbits." None of this pretend "y'all" kind of contracted speech that you see in some Ozark books. Good stuff, this. ( )
3 vote tloeffler | Apr 3, 2012 |
A little classic of Civil War guerrilla warfare in Kansas/Missouri, one of the best works of historical fiction that I own. This novel provided the screenplay for Ang Lee's very authentic, 'Ride With the Devil'... with Tobey Macquire & Jewel. Both book and film capture the atmosphere and dialog of the era. Not an easy to find book but well worth the search. ( )
  Ammianus | Jul 14, 2007 |
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We rode across the hillocks and vales of Missouri, hiding in uniforms of Yankee blue.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Set in the border states of Kansas and Missouri, Woe to Live On explores the nature of lawlessness and violence, friendship and loyalty, through the eyes of young recruit Jake Roedel. Where he and his fellow First Kansas Irregulars go, no one is safe...… (more)

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