68482556.299 Offutt, Chris OUT OF THE WOODS Violence, dislocation, the contradictory yearning for sustaining roots and for the rootless freedom of the road, as well as the difficult negotiations between men and women—all figure in this strong and startling collection. Over the course of several books, including a debut collection (Kentucky Straight, 1992), Offut has been working a rich vein of material, dealing with the tough, laconic hill people of Kentucky, and based on the razor-sharp stories here, the vein shows no signs of being played out. The wonderful title tale follows the efforts of a relative newcomer to the culture—the isolated, ancient culture of those hardscrabble hills—as he struggles to adapt himself to his wife’s taciturn, violent family. Sent to bail a brother-in-law out of trouble in another state, he discovers that the man has in fact been shot by his girlfriend, and died. Without cash but determined to impress the family, he manages to wrest the man’s body from officialdom, then haul it home in the back of his pick-up. In “Malungoons,” a deputy who prides himself on having escaped from the lethal feud that has enveloped several families in the nearby hollows finds, in one bloody moment, that he’s escaped his heritage after all. That archaic Kentucky culture, Offutt seems to suggest, is persistent, inescapable: it broods survivors, but it also breeds despair. Even those who seem to escape don’t often manage to evade the kinds of hard blows life seems to reserve for the powerless and poor. In the astringent “Tough People,” a couple on the road, scrambling desperately for a stake, and well aware that most things in life “will out you or burn you,” sign up for “Tough Man” and “Tough Woman” fights to raise money; they get the money but destroy their love in the process. There’s little good news in these nine tales, but there is in compensation ferocious portrait of an otherwise almost invisible culture, rendered in a salty, spare, memorable prose.