I've just finished packing up and moving across the country, a task markedly less appealing than going to an oral surgeon for extensive work that is well past due. And while packing and moving can be pure hell, unpacking can provide the occasional smile as misplaced or forgotten treasures begin to surface.
One item that I came across unpacking from this move was something that I didn't even realize that I owned. Well hidden in my boxes and boxes of books and books was an old paperback copy of Give Us a Kiss by West Plains novelist Daniel Woodrell. The thin, yellowing book, which appears to have been printed in 1997, had a cover price of $5.99.
The setting for Give Us a Kiss is Woodrell's standard "West Table" in "Howl County." It is the story of rural criminal activity overlaid with a multi-generational hillbilly feud, and while not an autobiography, it seems likely that strains of the story come from the author's own life.
(Like the author, the central character left school early and joined the Marine Corps. He also, like the author, went on to attend the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop.)
The story revolves around Doyle Redmond, an educated son of the Ozarks who has gotten out into the world and begun to make a name for himself by writing a couple of country noir novels that reverberate strongly with his Ozark background. His family, the Redmond's, had once owned thousands of acres around West Table, but by the time of this story they had fallen on hard times and were living near the junction of crime and despair. The Redmond's were involved in a long-standing blood feud with another family of desperadoes, the Dolly's. (The Dolly's were the focus family in Woodrell's later and more famous novel, Winter's Bone.)
Doyle Redmond has returned to West Table on an errand for his parents. They want him to connect with his older brother, Smoke Redmond, and try to get Smoke to resolve his problems with the law in Kansas City, where the parents live. But instead of instigating a rehabilitation of his older sibling, Doyle is drawn into a large-scale pot-growing operation with Smoke and his girlfriend - and the girlfriend's voluptuous daughter.
The plan to become rich off of marijuana farming is predictably complicated when the Dolly's get wind of the scheme - and hillbilly blood begins fertilizing the crop.
Give Us a Kiss is a charming little tale of crime and punishment in backwoods America. It isn't the author's finest work, but it does shine an unflinching light on our local culture. There's more to life in the Ozarks than just the scenic drives, Old Matt's Cabin, and the music shows of Branson. Daniel Woodrell dares to show us some of what the tourists miss. He is quite a storyteller.