There’s something very cool about Daniel Woodrell. He just has a pitch perfect depiction of the Ozarks, the most rural of rurals, the sorta place where nasty stuff happens and there’s no one around to see it. Even if they do, chances are they won’t talk. Or if they do, you can be sure there will be just as horrible consequences.
The last book I read of Woodrell’s was Muscle For the Wing. His stuff is generally called ‘country noir’ and that summed up that beautiful piece of grotty crime perfectly. With Death of Sweet Mister, as far more recent book of his the storytelling is just as gripping and hard.
The story is a coming of age (in the worst of ways) of a 13 year old kid called Shug. Overweight and without friends, Shug gets by with his mother Brenda, and his maybe father Red, who is using him to commit crimes, rather than risk getting caught and going back to prison.
It’s a short novel, but a powerful one. Woodrell just has a perfect way of words. He tosses around phrases that are just so country, so perfect for what he’s describing. I can’t help but chuckle at some of the things his characters say. Other times they are disturbing, like when he describes Red, how the mood changes when he comes into the room, like the mood changes when a match gets lit in a barn full of hay.
The story seems to drift, much like the characters through life, until the last third. Then things happen. Horrible, dark things. It really is a rather haunting read and a heartbreaking loss of innocence that (like the quotes say) is on par with Lord of the Flies. But then that’s what you know you’re getting yourself in for with a Woodrell book. No one comes out better off, or unharmed.
A great, great read. Quick and all the more powerful for it.