While Chris Offutt’s “Kentucky Straight” focuses on people living in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Offutt’s second short story collection, “Out of the Woods”, tells the tales of those who have escaped. The use of escaped isn’t a knock on Appalachia, rather it is just a reflection of how things are. Look at your hometown, look at your life and those around you, how many of them (even you) wished to escape to somewhere else.
The eight stories that comprise “Out of the Woods” are about a people that yearn to return, those that miss it, and those that are gone for good. In the eponymous story, the Gowan brothers send their new brother-in-law out to Kansas to fetch their brother who has been shot. “The Melungeons” tells the tale of one of the few recognized multi-racial groups in the United States and specifically the story of two men, one who left the hills only to return and another who remained to become the law.
Offutt tells stories with tales of desperation and want–sometimes like in “Barred Owl” what they want is simply Kentucky. The short stories of “Out of the Woods” are much darker and troubling that those of “Kentucky Straight”. I recommend you read them both, but if you had to read one, read “Out of the Woods”.