In the Ozarks, what you are is where you are born. If you're born in Venus Holler, you're not much. For Jamalee Merridew, her hair tomato red with rage and ambition, Venus Holler just won't cut it. Jamalee sees her brother, Jason, blessed with drop-dead gorgeous looks and the local object of female obsession, as her ticket out of town. But Jason may just be gay, and in the hills and hollows of the Ozarks, that is the most dangerous and courageous thing a man could be.
Enter Sammy Barlach, a loser ex-con passing through a tired nowhere on the way to a fresher nowhere. Jamalee thinks Sammy is just the kind of muscle she and Jason need.
©2012 Daniel Woodrell (P)2012 Hachette
When I began reading this book, I was transported to another place, which is what happened with the previous Daniel Woodrell novel I'd read. The location of this book is hot and stifling and miserable. The characters are flawed and interesting. The main character in particularly consistent in this way, which drives the plot. He is also the narrator of the story so you become carried away with his circumstances right along with him. Very quickly there I was, all ready to sit on a back porch in 90 degree heat with dirty jeans and my shirt off my back, trying to figure out my fate while bumming off a beer from somebody, when it did occur to me that I am actually a woman in very cool climate who has no back porch and does not drink beer and must keep her shirt on. Such is the magic of this novel.
The narrator was the highlight of this story. His acting abilities were clear (on top of his enjoyable voice). He was very skilled at doing female voices, which I find that many male narrators struggle to do well.
I liked that the book is fairly short compared to many fiction novels out there today.
Welcome to West Table, MO. Not to be confused with West Plains, MO. If you are from West Plains, as I am, it is easy enough to recognize many familiar sights. It is a thinly veiled attempt to conceal the source of the wealth of colorful characters in this novel. If you look it up on the map, it is near Dora (Dorda in the books) and is 17 miles from the Arkansas line. The only thing that has me stumped is Venus Hollow. I don't know if that is Koshkonong or Cooterville.
The book itself drew me in with the first rambling paragraph. I was hooked on not only the very vivid characters, but also the amazing way that Woodrell is able to turn a phrase and flip it from something mundane into a beautiful work of prose.
My only disappointment with this novel was the way one of his characters met their end. I guess I was not expecting this to be a murder mystery.
Having said all of that, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
top ten for sure and maybe top five.
The familiar language of the area where I live as well as the characters and geography. The first time I read Tomato Red I was delighted to see the words and phrases that I've heard and spoken my whole life for the first time in print. Having read hundreds of books throughout my life Daniel Woodrell is the first author I've read to speak the language of my people and I love it.
He did a very good job overall. Having a person from Southeast Missouri read the book would be the only way it could have been better maybe. I'm available for any future books based in SE MO if anyone is reading this.
For me it's Sammy, his familiarity to myself and others I know, sadly.
I can't get enough of Woodrell's books when he writes about the Ozarks in particular.
This is classic Daniel Woodrell. Hard scrabble characters unfortunately born in hard scrabble towns with futures as black and un promising as a railroad tunnel. His spare narrative evokes the emptiness of the lives and landscape. The characters are just too unique and witty to spring from this wilderness.
The main character is a bit too wise with self knowledge to play at this game, though. And the internal monologue indicates thrusts upon the reader a view class and social consciousness that is somewhat pedantic and nihilistic.
So the setting is great, the characters aren't as rounded and vigorous as some of his other novels, like Winters Bone.
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