Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Death of Sweet Mister

An Ozarkian Greek tragedy so mythic it could be carved in stone, but presented in such disarming voice it becomes an earthy delight filled with humor, sadness, and innocence lost presented in language of exquisite cadence and rhythm. That voice is Shug’s, a overweight 13 year old who’s relation with his childlike mother Glenda and the oppressive “father” figure “Red” is the center of the story. His daily life consists of food, raiding drugs from sick people for “Red”, caretaking a graveyard (where they live), and spending way too much time with Glenda. The characters and their wonderful dialogue guide the story its tragic conclusion (the title is terrific and well chosen has it has resonance throughout the story), but that voice presents the unsavory and unsettling aspects of the story in a way that feels naturalistic rather than over the top. Coming of age, country noir, southern gothic, twisted American, and Greek tragedy are all applicable labels for the book and it’s interesting and telling that Woodrell gets praise from the hardboiled set (Pelecanos, Lehane, Crumley etc.) along with regionalist writers like E. Annie Proulx and Kaye Gibbons as he presents a vision equally reminiscent of both camps.

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