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The Death Of Sweet Mister (2002)

The Death of Sweet Mister (2002)
3.94 of 5 Votes: 2
0452283302 (ISBN13: 9780452283305)
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The Death Of Sweet Mister (2002)
The Death Of Sweet Mister (2002)

About book: "You wake up in this here world, my sweet li'l mister, you got to wake up tough. You go out that front door tough of a mornin' and you stay tough 'til lights out - have you learned that?" 'Shug' Akins learns the hard way, between the beatings delivered by his father Red and the pampering of his mother Glenda. To the first, he is just a lazy, fat, soft teenager that needs to have some sense punched into him. Red goes to regular school, but we learn almost nothing about that side of his life. His real apprenticeship is in the life of crime as the drunkard bully who may not even be his natural parent, is forcing Shug (his real name is Morris, but nobody seems to care) to break and enter into poor people's homes and steal the painkillers the older man is addicted to. To complete the picture of woe and desolation, Shug lives in a graveyard, where his job is to 'mow that bone orchard' so that the town wouldn't throw him and his mother out on the streets. shug is at an awkward age, and his mother is more a hindrance than a help, with her sultry sexuality ( "she could make 'Hello, there' sound so sinful you'd run off and wash your ears after hearing it, then probably come back to hear it again.") and her own insecurities. She has dreams of escaping the conjugal violence and the horizonless existence, dreams she wants to pass on to her son. In Winter's Bone this escape was the army, in The Maid's version it was trains passing through in the night and heading for sunny places. Here escape takes the shape of a green luxury car: Somehow the Thunderbird seemed to instantly comb the bumps from the road ahead to keep the ride always gentle. It was a fabulous make of car. I never had been so high in the world. Since I mentioned the other two Ozark novels I've read by the same author, I should also say that these books sometimes feel like they all belong in a larger epic of the place, and each are just pieces of a puzzle that will ultimately fit together into a big canvas. The names of the families, the rivers, the small towns are becomingfamiliar. There are even references here to the events from The Maid's Version, and probably other continuing stories that I missed: The black angel stood ten feet tall and stood over a mass grave of mostly teenagers who's gone to a dancehall to dance years and years ago when dynamite or gas or who knows what exploded the dancehall and the teenagers became charcoal chinks nobody could particularly recognize as any particular person. Before I come back to Shug and his 'emancipation' I have a quote from the afterword, where Daniel Woodrell explains once more why the place and its people hold so strong a fascination for him. It's where his roots are and where his strength originates: It was hard from the beginning to eke a living from thin dirt and wild game, and it stayed hard. [...] The early white settlers came here to avoid the myriad restraints that accompany civilization - sheriffs, taxes, social conformity. they sought isolation. There has never been much belief in the essential fairness of a social order that answers most readily to gold; it's always been assumed the installed powers were corrupt and corruptible, hence to be shunned and avoided, except when you couldn't and must pay them. from the same afterword:I like trains in the night, dogs baying after coons, the long hours when the wind sings as it channels between hills and hollers and flies along creek beds. I've known a thousand plain kindnesses here. It is generally a pleasure to live among so many individuals who refuse to understand even the simplest of social rules if they find them odious. This trait can, of course, raise trouble.The overall picture is a bleak one, more so than the previous two Woodrell novels I've read, and I would say as little as possible about the plot in order to avoid spoilers. Dennis Lehane in the foreword explains the theme much better than I could : It's the death of the 'sweet', the death of the soul, the end of anything approximating childhood or innocence. I know every reader will have a different reaction and relate the events in the book according to his/her personal experiences, and may focus on different aspects of the story. For me, the most important message is that we shouldn't rush to condemn or dismiss these people as born bad, criminals or drug addicts or simply crazy and stupid. They are the product of the world they live in, and if there is to be any hope for them, it lies not in lenghty prison sentences or fiery accusations of their lifestyle from the pulpits of various religions or politicians, but in trying to understand the culture and in trying to offer them a better alternative, a world more fair and more compassionate. Shug screams out at the injustice of the cards Fate has dealt him, but there is nobody to hear or to answer. The 'sweet' has turned 'bitter' in his mouth, and another Red Akins is born:The bottle where I hid my lifelong screams busted wide. The screams flew loose where nobody could hear. The road I walked along was sunburnt dirt and dust lifted with each step. I walked alone and felt my screams break free. I screamed over things that happened I thought I'd forgot. I screamed past fence rows and cows along the sunburnt road. Parts of me I didn't understand broke loose inside and clogged my throat. The cows laid listening to my screams as if they knew all about them and didn't need to hear more. Highly recommended. Thanks are due to the Pulp Group for choosing the novel as October's read. It is a horror novel, made more chilling by the absence of any supernatural props and an awareness that these people are only too real and hurting maybe right next door to us.

Reason for Reading: This may sound weird but, I enjoy reading well-written depressing books. I have never read this author before nor actually even heard of him, but he caught my eye when I saw that the publisher had reprinted all his works in a new line of trade paperbacks. I had a hard time deciding which book to try first but this one seemed to fit my interests well and it was short so a good one to try a new author. It is really hard to use words such as "I liked" or "I enjoyed" with such a brutal and sad story. If you like happy endings or rays of hope, this is not the book for you as it is the complete opposite. We see a poor family living well below the poverty line, the word family here is optional as the parents are each extremely dysfunctional though in completely different ways. But they both have the same effect on the boy. This is virtually his coming-of-age story. The story is brutal in its harshness and honesty. I don't want to tell the topics it deals with as that would giveaway a major spoiler to the plot, but let's just say the book becomes harder and harder to read as the plot and the characters become more and more broken. This was an emotional, tough read but well worth it. Achingly well-written, the despair and cruelty that is so real in this story touched me deeply. Personally, for me, I "enjoy" this type of story, and this one in particular because it brings home the reality, to me, of a life without Jesus. Unimaginable emptiness.
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All my favourite writers are favourites for different reasons. Tartt for her ability to weave a story sometimes about nothing, Winterson for her heady prose and now Woodrell (along with Donald Ray Pollock) for his ability to punch you in the stomach, only to walk away and leave you wanting more. Give me grit, give me all of the gnarly, mucky gritty shit.As much as I get a kick out of listening to say, Stephen Fry speak; his clever vocabulary, the pompous roll of his words - I have started appreciating the beauty of simple language too. Perhaps "simple" isn't the best word, as it can be complex and stunning and an entire plump little world of its own. Some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, well duh. But I grew up with an incredible amount of cultural cringe and now I wish I had embraced the sun drenched land and all it encompasses, that I'm fortunate to live on, earlier in life. This land full of sunburned, sweating people, their accents heavy with ocker twang. Houses on stilts, burned dusty lawns and oceans as warm as a tepid cup of tea. I've gone from wanting to only read books that transport me to other places; London, New York, places with snow or big cities to wanting to smother myself in red dirt and humidity. America's South is different to Australia but there's similarities too. "Full summer heat was in play that day. Folks moved slower. Dogs crawled under porches and would not fetch. People got cranky about other people blocking the fan wind. Tar patches on the road bubbled up like black pancakes almost ready to flip. Anything around that did not smell too good normally smelled awful."He could be writing about where I live, right here on this very road. This is the kind of writing that pushes my buttons, Do you ever get that feeling where you're really hungry and you can't quite decide what you reel like eating? This book hit that slim spot, it filled all the blanks that I felt was missing in The Goldfinch (which I've just come from)l the heady detail, the gritty setting. "The woods squeezed close at the very edge of the yard on three sides and stood there glum like a crowd that had patience and more patience but was not so sure they ever would be entertained"Now that is fucking clever writing. So subtle yet brilliant. The kicked up dust, rickety fences, dilapidated houses and rusted out porches, rattling cars and broken people. It's a smorgasbord of grungy description. There's food that smacks you around the nostrils too, black beans with ham, chicken noodle soups sitting heavy in pots on the stove top. Woodrell wrote in a piece on why he writes, (found tacked onto the back of this noveL), "When the timber barons came to the Ozarks they cut the great forests down to stump and mud and the mud thinned - more with every rainfall. They took all the timber, They left us the stumps. This is the Ozarks I needed to know, and know to the bloody root, in order to write as I do."I enjoy it thoroughly when writers such as Woodrell grab their hometown by the balls and spread it about on paper. Yet it's not just a soulless book full of gutsy characters and description, it has a quietly fluid plot making you question things like the age-old nature vs nurture debate. Was Shugs inherently bad-natured or was he moulded into perversity, wickedness by the adults who had parts to play in raising him? I think a lot about parenting and how much of what care-givers do, ultimately affects the child as they grow. It's always interesting to see what others' takes are. As much as it seems that Shugs had no choice, another child may have run away from home, refused to participate, fought back.This isn't the kind of book I recommend to just anybody but it's a quick read and if you've got a thing for gritty shit then this book is a nice, compact little ride through some questionable characters and their actions. You might even walk away with an appreciation and fascination for the Ozarks, on which I'm already scouring Wikipedia.
In the community where I grew up there happened to be a part of the county called "the bloody 8th". The "8th" was a reference to the old voting district and the "bloody" was a mostly exaggerated (but not entirely) reference to the carnal bad stuff that went down there. Us city kids weren't welcome, and generally made it a point to avoid it at all times. Well the worst of the populous within my boyhood "Bloody 8th" would be upstanding citizens compared to the cast in this little jaunt through the Ozarks. Bad stuff. Not just the Jerry Springer kind of stuff.....genuine mind altering deadbeats. Not in it for any reaction......bred that way and hopeless to escape so it seems. All told through the eyes of a sometimes sweet spirited 13 year old fat kid. Despite his tender heart, there's insight he details just as lewd as his negative influencing role models. Oh he knows to hate the ugly spots, but he falls right in whether forced there through coercion or drifting to the spot by lustful desire. A vicious cycle- another tailspin towards disaster. The details leave no doubt that Woodrell didn't discover the finer points by careful research and academic discovery. No Sir- he's earned this grit the hard way; osmosis. My first Woodrell read but not my last. Highly recommended to those who can stomach it.
I enjoyed your review, and wonder if you have any suggestions as to where to start with Woodrell's books. I saw the movie version of Winter's Bone, and while I thought it was really wonderful, probably wouldn't want to read it until some of the major plot points were less fresh in my memory. I've heard that Tomato Red is really great, too. Any thoughts?
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