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The Death of Sweet Mister

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Woodrell, author of Tomato Red, delivers his most powerful work to date in The Death of Sweet Mister. Like Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn, Shuggie Akins tells his story of a reluctant descent into the world of adults in this unforgettable and ultimately moving novel.


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Woodrell, author of Tomato Red, delivers his most powerful work to date in The Death of Sweet Mister. Like Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn, Shuggie Akins tells his story of a reluctant descent into the world of adults in this unforgettable and ultimately moving novel.

30 review for The Death of Sweet Mister

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    If Flannery O'Connor is the Sophocles of Southern lowlife, then Daniel Woodrell is the Seneca. This deceptively colloquial Ozark tale--full of artful rhetoric, black ironies and blood--is treated in such a pitiless Olympian fashion that the result is more mythic than tragic. Shuggie and his mother Glenda leave their mark on each other, and they will leave their mark on you the reader too. If Flannery O'Connor is the Sophocles of Southern lowlife, then Daniel Woodrell is the Seneca. This deceptively colloquial Ozark tale--full of artful rhetoric, black ironies and blood--is treated in such a pitiless Olympian fashion that the result is more mythic than tragic. Shuggie and his mother Glenda leave their mark on each other, and they will leave their mark on you the reader too.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Annet

    What a book, what a book.... So grim, so bleak, so dark and so well written. In line with Cormac McCarthy, this writer Daniel Woodrell is. I read Winter's Bone some years ago and loved it too. Again a bleak situation of a young lady. This book is about Shug, an overweight young boy, 13 years old, with violent father and a drunk mum. The relationship with the mum is, to say the least, a bit weird. Kept me reading nonstop within my available time, highly intriguing from beginning to the very last What a book, what a book.... So grim, so bleak, so dark and so well written. In line with Cormac McCarthy, this writer Daniel Woodrell is. I read Winter's Bone some years ago and loved it too. Again a bleak situation of a young lady. This book is about Shug, an overweight young boy, 13 years old, with violent father and a drunk mum. The relationship with the mum is, to say the least, a bit weird. Kept me reading nonstop within my available time, highly intriguing from beginning to the very last page. Stunningly poetic, this violent read. I'll be back for more as usual, but if you can take dark and violent yet beautiful (I know, weird combination), read this book! I may go to five stars, need to think. I need to read more of this writer soon. Grand... and shocking. The bottle where I hid my lifelong screams busted wide. The screams flew loose where nobody could hear. The road I walked along was sunburt 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 sunburt road.... I screamed until my throat was whipped raw and the sun settled and set....

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jaidee

    5 "heartbreaking, desolate and organic" stars !!! 7th Favorite Read of 2016 (Tie) This is a book Tennessee Williams would be proud to have written! A novel that reads like both a play and poetry. A story that is both tragic and yet everyday. The writing and flow of this book are superb. An Ozark family drama with such clear finely drawn characters that you can reach out and touch them, talk to them and due to their high dysfunction likely run from them. Shugie (Morris) is 13. His momma calls him S 5 "heartbreaking, desolate and organic" stars !!! 7th Favorite Read of 2016 (Tie) This is a book Tennessee Williams would be proud to have written! A novel that reads like both a play and poetry. A story that is both tragic and yet everyday. The writing and flow of this book are superb. An Ozark family drama with such clear finely drawn characters that you can reach out and touch them, talk to them and due to their high dysfunction likely run from them. Shugie (Morris) is 13. His momma calls him Sweet Mister and his Step Daddy calls him so many awful and nasty names usually about his overweight status. Shugie has no friends to speak of and his only solace is food and his emotionally incestuous mother who treats him more like a little man than a son. He lives with his family in a graveyard and does most of the work as his momma is a terrible alcoholic and his step-daddy is a thief and opiate addict. This trio of characters is not just toxic but rather explosive with a number of climaxes throughout the book. I felt so terribly sad and outraged for Shugie. The abuse he has to endure and the fact that he is all alone in the world with nobody to truly nurture or care for him. He is abandoned over and over. He is mocked over and over. He is seduced over and over. How can we ever expect our Sweet Mister to ever be a healthy and functioning member of our society. Quite simply we can't. He will most likely end up in prison and we will demonize him as "white trash". I want to leave with you some quotes from the book: "You don't know what you'd miss Shug." An airplane, the passenger kind, passed overhead, a silver dot high in the the sky, that sort of sad sound in the sky, that sort of sad hum from a thing far away and going farther that makes your chest leak air and feel hollow. "It might be candy corn, or maybe matchbooks from the pancake house that you'd have in your head all the time. Some silly thing your head decides is important and misses. A picture of your dog. Your old baseball mitt. There's no knowin' which silly thing neither. Not before it happens". and "A pickup truck splashed beside us with a sopping old hound dog standing on the bed. The dog and me caught each other's eyes and the hound looked like he reckoned that at some other time him and me could be friends and yell at squirrels together. Even when the truck splashed off a good ways down the road he looked back at me." and "Once I sat still, gang after gang of little fish stopped by to nibble, to pucker and nibble, on the vast white bellyskin I offered. They lined around my tummy. They pecked under my arms. They gathered like a pack to pucker and nibble at the fat rolls on my chest. I had the right flavor for them. The fish were small narrow things, some creamy with dark stripey parts, others pure yellow, and all moved fast. The fish made me feel like a special treat, like if I did float and laid myself in the current and drifted they'd come with, come along, a pack of fish traveling the shadow beneath me as I floated and floated away." So many more examples of such exquisite heartbreaking prose of a little boy who was never allowed to be a "loved little boy" but rather a substitute husband-caregiver to his needy weak mother and an accomplice and punching bag for a brute of a step-father. The little sensitive poet in him is never fostered, appreciated, cared for. If I had the courage I would read this book again but my poor heart could not bear it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell is the August 2016 choice for post 1980 read by the Southern literary trail group. After reading a preview of the book, it did not look like a story that would interest me, but when group members praised the book, I decided to read it for myself. Despite Woodrell's extraordinary story telling ability, The Death of Sweet Mister was not a story that I enjoyed reading. For that, I rate it 3 stars- 1.5 for the bleak story and 4.5 for the prose. I could te The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell is the August 2016 choice for post 1980 read by the Southern literary trail group. After reading a preview of the book, it did not look like a story that would interest me, but when group members praised the book, I decided to read it for myself. Despite Woodrell's extraordinary story telling ability, The Death of Sweet Mister was not a story that I enjoyed reading. For that, I rate it 3 stars- 1.5 for the bleak story and 4.5 for the prose. I could tell from the opening paragraphs that Woodrell is a gifted writer. He paints the imagery of an impoverished, Ozark family so that I could really get a feel for the horrid conditions in which they live. Thirteen year old Shug Akins is grotesquely obese and lives in a shack in the middle of a cemetery with his emotionally unstable mother Glenda and her part time husband Red. Because the house is tiny, Shug, experiences the adults' world: sex, drugs, alcoholism, poverty. There is little to be happy about and no rosy future for Shug to look forward to. There are no other peers in Shug's life, only the adults who have shaped his bleak existence. Red uses Shug to be his errand boy to obtain meth and dope from houses of terminally patients. He and his friend Basil take some of the drugs for themselves and sell the rest so that they have some money to live on. Meanwhile Glenda dresses in a provocative manner every day, and when Red goes away for days at a time, she attracts Jimmy Vin Pearce in his green thunderbird. They engage in an affair, and Shug becomes jealous of their relationship. Red has an affair of his own, and Shug is forced to witness both from close by. I would like to say that Shug comes of age in a positive manner and is reformed or that Glenda takes Shug and leave their trashy Ozark hillbilly exist beyond, but neither is meant to be. Shug remains Glenda's sweet mister despite her showy displays for all men who come across her path. This leads to complicated sexual feelings on both their parts, and, unfortunately, does not lead either to better their existence or tie up the story neatly. The world of drugs, sexual perversion, and barely enough money to scrape by is all they will ever know. Despite this horrid tale, I can tell that Woodrell is a gifted writer as he paints this bleak existence. I would be open to reading more of his books if they weren't quite as grotesque as Sweet Mister. In the meantime, I am left with images of Shug Akins horrendous living conditions and am tremendously thankful that my children live in a better world than that of the Akins family.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lawyer

    The Death of Sweet Mister: God Bless the Child That's Got His Own The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell is nominated as a group read for August, 2016, for the group On the Southern Literary Trail. The polls are open. This is just one of the exceptional nominations being considered. Interested? Drop by. Sit a spell. If you're inclined, walk the Trail with us. What would you like to read? There's always plenty to choose from along the Southern Trail. My thanks to Trail Member Carol of Cary, The Death of Sweet Mister: God Bless the Child That's Got His Own The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell is nominated as a group read for August, 2016, for the group On the Southern Literary Trail. The polls are open. This is just one of the exceptional nominations being considered. Interested? Drop by. Sit a spell. If you're inclined, walk the Trail with us. What would you like to read? There's always plenty to choose from along the Southern Trail. My thanks to Trail Member Carol of Cary, North Carolina for her nomination. Come join us! Them that's got shall have Them that's not shall lose So the Bible says and it still is news Mama may have, Papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own Yes the strong get smart While the weak ones fade Empty pockets don't ever make the grade Mama may have, Papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own Billie Holliday and Arthur Herzog, 1939 Daniel Woodrell There's no need stretching this out. Daniel Woodrell is a Hellaciously good writer. The Death of Sweet Mister is a fine dark read told through the eyes of a thirteen year old, Morris Atkins, better known as Shug, and, you guessed it, Sweet Mister. The Death of Sweet Mister, First Edition, Putnam Adult, January 1, 2001 Once again, Woodrell sets his story in the Missouri Ozarks, often called "Little Dixie." Woodrell paints his setting with the strokes of a master. His characters come alive through dialog that cuts sharp and true. I'm going up the country where the water tastes like wine The Atkins family consists of Shug, mother Glenda, and Red. There is little doubt a paternity test would determine Red didn't plant the seed that produced Shug. Red has nothing but contempt for the boy. Red's blatant sexuality with Glenda hurt Shug, and in his mind, hurts his mother as well. This could well be Woodrell's tale of Oedipus in the Ozarks. Red is an incompetent criminal, spending more time on parole, than free of any kind of supervision. He's in the joint, on parole, or headed back to the joint. Perhaps that's why he wonders when he had the time to conceive Shug. Fat boy! You dumbshit. I'll knock fire from your ass, dig?" ..."Red, Red, my God, don't talk to our son that way--you'll get him twisted." "Our son, my ass." ..."I wish I could add none of this happened " The Atkins secure housing in the caretaker's shack at the town cemetery. They live there in exchange for tending the grounds. But it's Shug who does the work, mowing the wide expanses with a tractor and a small lawn mower for the tight spaces. Red is out with his buddy Basil scoring all the dope they can. Glenda spends her days in an alcoholic fog, sipping on her "tea," a mixture of rum and coke. The Green, Green, Grass of Home Red's not so dumb. He realizes that one more bust will send him back to the pen for a very long time. The solution? Recruit Fat Boy. He's a Juvie. If he's caught, nothing will happen to him. All he has to do is to get Shug to keep his mouth shut if he is caught. And Red's a pro at that. Dig? Shug begins his life of juvenile crime. He burglarizes the houses Red points out and steals the drugs. Red has a convenient business associate, Patty, a nurse who knows who is dying at home and on heavy medication. She's a business associate with fringe benefits. Shug confronts the dying in their homes and takes their medication, always leaving several doses. At times, Red questions the amount Shug brings to them, but he's smart enough to shrug and say that's all there was. "Well you might see me tonight with an illegal smile"-John Prine The inevitable happens. Shug is caught by an old man with bone cancer, but alert enough to call the police. Red is nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs and takes Shug fishing, threatening him with his life if he squeals on him and Basil. Meanwhile, Glenda has met Jimmy Vin Pearce, a professional cook down at the Echo Club. Glenda is one of those women men turn to stare at. She has Jimmy's attention. Jimmy's shiny green Thunderbird has Glenda's. "Don't you think Jimmy would make a good Daddy," she asks Shug. "No. I think Daddies stink." It's a big bright green pleasure machine! Red disappears. The shack looks as though Hell broke through it. Shug looks through the shack, expecting to find bodies in the bedroom. But all he finds is a skillet with red hair stuck to it. The Death of Sweet Mister is a rush from start to finish. Each and every voice Woodrell creates rings with authenticity. Most surprising is how deftly Woodrell handles the first person narrative of Shug. His loss of innocence is palpable as the pages turn. Daniel Woodrell is a literary gift. His are no simple stories with happy endings. These are harsh portraits of the rough side of life and the unique people who carry the burdens of the lives they lead, some by choice and some by force. Highest recommendation.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    Holy crap! I may need to read some Cormac McCarthy to cheer up after this one. Holy crap! I may need to read some Cormac McCarthy to cheer up after this one.

  7. 5 out of 5

    LeAnne: GeezerMom

    Dear Casual Readers, this is not a book you are going to want to read. But if you can muster your resolve, get your boots on, and stomach it, the powerful writing of Daniel Woodrell will knock said boots right off your feet. I don't have a background in classics. I'm a science geek who just happens to love fiction. Until recently I didn't know that there was a genre called "Southern Gothic" or if I'd heard the term, I'd probably think it meant some sort of ghost story set in a decrepit antebellum Dear Casual Readers, this is not a book you are going to want to read. But if you can muster your resolve, get your boots on, and stomach it, the powerful writing of Daniel Woodrell will knock said boots right off your feet. I don't have a background in classics. I'm a science geek who just happens to love fiction. Until recently I didn't know that there was a genre called "Southern Gothic" or if I'd heard the term, I'd probably think it meant some sort of ghost story set in a decrepit antebellum house - like that creepy old short-story by Faulkner called "A Rose for Emily." Did you maybe read that in high school? It's great, remember? Since getting onto Goodreads, however, I've learned that one characteristic of Southern Gothic is the appearance of a "grotesque" character - essentially, somebody who is warped in some way mentally. It could be a manic-depressive, a raging alcoholic, somebody out of touch with reality...like Blanche in "A Streetcar Name Desire." Pat Conroy described it like this: “My mother, Southern to the bone, once told me, ‘All Southern literature can be summed up in these words: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.’” Daniel Woodrell writes characters who are nearly all grotesques. Every one of them. They are surrounded by poverty, disaster, trials and tribulations galore - and there is always one who you root for. There is always one character you love love love and want to see him or her claw out of the pit cupping them close. You want to see them climb toward that one little spoke of sunlight, that single piercing arrow of hope. As the title suggests, this book is not going to end well. But it may end in a way you never see coming. If you are the mother of a 13 year old boy - as I am - this novel is probably going to be harder to get through than it would be for other readers. It has the single most horrible and yet perfect book ending ever. I do not do summaries or book reports in my reviews because as a reader, I like to be totally surprised by what lays between the pages. So without any spoilers, I will tell you only that a boy has parents who do not treat him well. His mother loves him and encourages him and wants a wonderful future for him, but she drinks. She remains with an abusive husband who takes out his anger on her and the boy. There is drug use in the book and really, really despicable theft. But through all this twisted darkness, you come to love the sweet natured boy nicknamed "Shug" - short for Sugar. There is a shaft of hope beaming straight down at that boy near the book's conclusion, and the tension of knowing whether or not it comes to light up his life will keep you clenched up in suspense. Woodrell is a masculine writer, but his simple words about even the non-essential things grab me: "in the woods beyond the spot where we sat, little creatures told jokes on the other little creatures and clicked their nails on tree bark and skittered so the leaves waffled and twisted as they laughed their kind of laughs. From somewhere off yonder came a soft mumble of a creek dreaming a good one." "Twice we saw snakes drawing spaghetti lines in the dust of the road." "Their voices sounded as bloodshot as their eyes." "Carl's bad leg looked like a sausage link that had got shoved to the back of the fridge and forgot about it till it was no good." In sum, if you are a fan of the Southern Gothic genre, or when it is especially violent called "grit lit", go ahead and read. Fans of Cormac McCarthy, Larry Brown, and Harry Crews will love this as I did. But I like the dark. Five stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This is one of the bleakest, saddest, most hopeless stories I have ever read. It tore at my heart. What amazes me the most is how well Daniel Woodrell presents the complicated dynamics between Red, Glenda and Shug and how clearly we see that the good heart in Shug is never going to be allowed to exist in this sordid world he occupies. I began to mourn him on page one. Woodrell employs exactly the right sharp, staccato, unvarnished writing style that his subject demands. He puts his words in the m This is one of the bleakest, saddest, most hopeless stories I have ever read. It tore at my heart. What amazes me the most is how well Daniel Woodrell presents the complicated dynamics between Red, Glenda and Shug and how clearly we see that the good heart in Shug is never going to be allowed to exist in this sordid world he occupies. I began to mourn him on page one. Woodrell employs exactly the right sharp, staccato, unvarnished writing style that his subject demands. He puts his words in the mouths of the characters in dialogue that rings true. I could hear the syrup in Glenda’s voice and the cruelty in Red’s. I could hear the sorrow below the surface in Shug. There are many ways to die and two of the worst are suicide and murder. Shug Akins is murdered and in response, he commits suicide.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Doug H

    Oedipus Rex Shug Drug and alcohol addiction, poverty, violence and murder, child and wife abuse, even incest: it’s all here. Yes, the subject matter is horrifying, but I absolutely loved this mercilessly brutal and yet somehow still tender and touching novel in which a long-suffering victim of an extremely dysfunctional family and a toxic environment comes of age and seals his own fate. While I enjoyed Tomato Red (which deals with many of the same themes), I think Woodrell’s writing is superior i Oedipus Rex Shug Drug and alcohol addiction, poverty, violence and murder, child and wife abuse, even incest: it’s all here. Yes, the subject matter is horrifying, but I absolutely loved this mercilessly brutal and yet somehow still tender and touching novel in which a long-suffering victim of an extremely dysfunctional family and a toxic environment comes of age and seals his own fate. While I enjoyed Tomato Red (which deals with many of the same themes), I think Woodrell’s writing is superior in this novel. Just two years separate their publication dates, but growth in the author's skills is noticeable. The character development is stronger and the storyline is more compelling. There are less groan-inducing deadpan Noir-type jokes than there are in Tomato Red and it’s even darker and depressing - yet there are just enough comedic elements to keep you from drowning in all the misery. Drunk Granny’s scenes all made me grin and one segment where Shuggie a/k/a Sweet Mister (the 13 year old narrator) joins her and his cousin on her paper route had me laughing aloud. I also thought Woodrell’s placement of that episode was brilliant because it provides the reader with some much needed relief and it also softens him/her up for a very brutal blow that follows in the next chapter when Shug returns home. I’m a sucker for almost anything with a First Person POV narrator with an outsider perspective, and this is a prime example. But, beyond that, Woodrell’s writing amazed me. I think he has something going in his writing that I can't compare to any other author's: something uniquely half ugly and half beautiful; hard and tender; visceral and poetic. I’m amazed at how that could be possible, but Woodrell proves it is. Examples: "The weather had looped around to where it was good again, too good to last long, and had prompted blossoms to unclench and wild flowers to pose tall and prissy amongst the weeds, plus it brought forth song birds and bumble bees and all the likewise shit of Spring." "Our house looked like it had been painted with jumbo crayons by a kid with wild hands who enjoyed bright colors but lost interest fast." "On the floor flopped a beanbag chair, which would act like a horror-movie flower trying to eat you if you sat in it." "Her skin looked like a dry leaf fallen to the road and waiting to crinkle into pieces." "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 would be entertained." "The cows laid listening to my screams as if they knew all about them and didn’t need to hear more." "An airplane, the passenger kind, passed overhead, a silver dot high in the blue, and made that sad sound in the sky, that sort of sad hum from a thing far away and going farther that makes your chest leak air and feel hollow." Why did I title my review Oedipus Shug? I’ll tell you here if you don’t mind a spoiler: (view spoiler)[In “The Interpretation of Dreams”, Freud first coined the phrase “Oedipus Complex” to describe his theory that a young male child goes through a phase where he wishes to destroy his father in order to claim his mother for himself. This will likely be floating in every reader's mind as they go through this novel. Big theme for sure. But then there is this moment in the last paragraph where Woodrell made me think he wasn’t just building his theme on Freud, but from the original source itself: Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles. At the end of that play, after Oedipus has killed his father and raped his mother, he tears out his own eyes. Looking at these lines from Woodrell’s closing paragraph metaphorically, it seems Shug has done done the same: "There was something off about the sun. Not as round as normal but shining hard. All that sunshine coming my way and nothing I cared to see. I stared into the sun until I couldn’t see a thing." (hide spoiler)] I'm looking forward to reading Winter's Bone next, but I definitely need a breather first. I can only hope that it will be as good as this one. 5 stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    "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 "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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I can't do it. I can't review this book. It was brutal, but beautiful at the same time. Shug and Glenda are two of the saddest creatures in literature. Daniel Woodrell is the only author I know who could tell their story. I can't do it. I can't review this book. It was brutal, but beautiful at the same time. Shug and Glenda are two of the saddest creatures in literature. Daniel Woodrell is the only author I know who could tell their story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Just as in his novel Winter's Bone, in this book author Daniel Woodrell moves beyond usual "modern noir," and into something closer to rural tragedy set in his world of the Missouri Ozark mountains. This Oedipal tale is about the relationship between young "Shug" Akins and his mother Glenda. Glenda is attractive and apparently irresistible to the opposite sex, which is a sad situation because she makes terrible decisions when it comes to men. Granny said Mom could make 'Hello, there" soun Just as in his novel Winter's Bone, in this book author Daniel Woodrell moves beyond usual "modern noir," and into something closer to rural tragedy set in his world of the Missouri Ozark mountains. This Oedipal tale is about the relationship between young "Shug" Akins and his mother Glenda. Glenda is attractive and apparently irresistible to the opposite sex, which is a sad situation because she makes terrible decisions when it comes to men. Granny said Mom 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. Shug's dead beat father, Red, (and there's a good chance he might not even be his real father) is still in the picture. He's emotionally and physically abusive to both Glenda and Shug, and forces Shug to steal prescription drugs for him. But things get even more complicated when a pleasant, smooth-talking cook in a sexy green Thunderbird rolls into town, and has eyes for Glenda. On the surface, The Death of Sweet Mister seems like a short, simple read, but it's anything but that. Woodrell is less concerned with plot and more concerned with evoking his literary world of the Ozark community and his complex characters that live there. But the plot was even less of propulsive than the murder mystery in Winter's Bone, and at the start, the POV of Shug Avery was somehow difficult for me to engage with. But about halfway through the novel it stuck and by the sad and troubling conclusion, I enjoyed it. But I wouldn't recommend it to everyone though. There are some disturbing themes in the story and if you're looking for a fast-paced plot, you probably won't find it here. Usually I would be one of those people, but for some reason, so far Woodrell's writing fascinates me. The bottle where I hid my lifelong screams busted wide. The screams flew loose where nobody could hear.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rebbie

    This is an unforgettable book. Many reviewers have likened this story to Oedipus Rex. I agree, but I also think that the sweet innocence of Shug versus his odd relationship with his mother gives this story a depth that most stories don't possess. Shug is a 13 year-old obese outcast, and is probably on the autism spectrum. His mother is an alcoholic who uses her sexuality to get what she thinks she needs out of a situation, which blurs the healthy lines that exist between mother and son naturally. H This is an unforgettable book. Many reviewers have likened this story to Oedipus Rex. I agree, but I also think that the sweet innocence of Shug versus his odd relationship with his mother gives this story a depth that most stories don't possess. Shug is a 13 year-old obese outcast, and is probably on the autism spectrum. His mother is an alcoholic who uses her sexuality to get what she thinks she needs out of a situation, which blurs the healthy lines that exist between mother and son naturally. His father is cruel and abusive; nobody is looking out for Shug or his future. He even has to mow the town's cemetery lawn to keep a roof over their heads. His mother uses food as a means to show him love, and his father uses the boy's weight to belittle and abuse him. He is openly used without mercy, left emotionally abandoned and forced to take care of his mother and her messes. And boy, does she make a mess; the kind that would make most kids run out the door screaming. But not Shug, because he loves his mother too much. He doesn't want to lose her because he has nothing else to live for. And she proves unworthy of this love without a second thought as to his emotional wellbeing. All I want to do is wrap him up in a blanket and comfort him, which is something he's probably never gotten from anyone. How tragic.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    A novel about the metaphorical death of " Sweet Mister " also known as Shug Akins a sad, overweight, 13 year old boy growing up in the seamiest group that ever lived in the Ozarks, yet is fully able to adeptly narrate a harshly lyrical story based mostly on his forced voyeurism. It's all here , his pathetic attention seeking alcoholic mother Glenda who coddles him and her womanizing ,criminal ,and abusive boyfriend Red who uses him as a punching bag. Also aboard are drugs, foul play, innuendo an A novel about the metaphorical death of " Sweet Mister " also known as Shug Akins a sad, overweight, 13 year old boy growing up in the seamiest group that ever lived in the Ozarks, yet is fully able to adeptly narrate a harshly lyrical story based mostly on his forced voyeurism. It's all here , his pathetic attention seeking alcoholic mother Glenda who coddles him and her womanizing ,criminal ,and abusive boyfriend Red who uses him as a punching bag. Also aboard are drugs, foul play, innuendo and incest. It's popular to like this book, but surely not everyone will be able to stomach it. Before a live album cut in the 1970's Stephen Stills once said as a song intro , "This one starts out slow and sort of fizzles out altogether. " We know from the very first (from the title in fact) that things aren't going to be pretty or go well here. Poor Shug, he hasn't a ghost of a chance. We were warned, and yep he turns out to be just as unlikeable as everyone else. Perhaps the most depressing book I've ever read. Bleak !! 2 stars

  15. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    I could call this book a 'coming of age' story, but I won't. It's not necessarily the wrong way to put it, but our "death of Sweet Mister" transitioning to his proper name, Morris, is more ironic than anything else. What is it about books that show us the misery and shit in people's lives that really make us cringe, smile, laugh, howl and think about for days afterwards that cause us to think, 'Damn, that was good!'? It's human nature, my friends. Human fucking nature. We're all screwed up to som I could call this book a 'coming of age' story, but I won't. It's not necessarily the wrong way to put it, but our "death of Sweet Mister" transitioning to his proper name, Morris, is more ironic than anything else. What is it about books that show us the misery and shit in people's lives that really make us cringe, smile, laugh, howl and think about for days afterwards that cause us to think, 'Damn, that was good!'? It's human nature, my friends. Human fucking nature. We're all screwed up to some degree; some of us, hell, most of us, refuse to admit it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    PorshaJo

    I saw the Southern Literary group on GR was reading this one for August. I knew nothing of this book or the author. I read a few reviews on the book and it sounded quite interesting, so I figured I would check it out. I have been wanting to read more southern literature. I was surprised by how much I was drawn into this book. The title is quite true of the main character. You see the death, figuratively, of sweet mister, aka....shug. The story is about a 13-year old boy, Shug, who should be a ch I saw the Southern Literary group on GR was reading this one for August. I knew nothing of this book or the author. I read a few reviews on the book and it sounded quite interesting, so I figured I would check it out. I have been wanting to read more southern literature. I was surprised by how much I was drawn into this book. The title is quite true of the main character. You see the death, figuratively, of sweet mister, aka....shug. The story is about a 13-year old boy, Shug, who should be a child, playing and loving life at that time of his life. However, he's treated as a grown up. Smoking, drinking, cussing, robbing.....all done in front of his 'mother', who isn't much of a mother. His mother, Glenda, really is a piece of work. It's quite a heart-breaking story and a bit difficult to read at times. Woodrell brings you right into the story and keeps you enthralled the entire time. The 'southern accent' took me a bit to get into. But overall, a very good read. Woodrell is probably most known for the movie Winter's Bone, which came from his book. Another heart breaking story. I saw the movie years ago, but now I want to read the book. I look forward to reading more from this author.

  17. 4 out of 5

    tee

    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 apprec 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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell Red, Glenda and Shug-Sweet Mister-Morris live in the middle of a cemetery in a caretaker's capacity. Shug does all the manual labor of mowing the grass on a tractor and using a push lawn mower to fit in between the tombstones. His mother Glenda is always intoxicated on her "tea", which is really rum and cola. Red his stand in father uses him to commit crimes for him like stealing people's prescription drugs while the people are home. Red is emotionally The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell Red, Glenda and Shug-Sweet Mister-Morris live in the middle of a cemetery in a caretaker's capacity. Shug does all the manual labor of mowing the grass on a tractor and using a push lawn mower to fit in between the tombstones. His mother Glenda is always intoxicated on her "tea", which is really rum and cola. Red his stand in father uses him to commit crimes for him like stealing people's prescription drugs while the people are home. Red is emotionally and physically abusive to both Glenda and Shug. Every parental figure in his life fails him and steals his innocence. Henceforth the apt title The Death of Sweet Mister. "Red made me get out and paint the truck another color once we crossed the state line from Arkansas to Missouri. His voice to me seemed always to have those worms in it that eat you once your dead and still. His voice always wanted to introduce me to those waiting worms. He had a variety of ugly tones to speak in and used them all at me on most days." The narrator of this powerful novel is a thirteen year old boy named Shug. Shug gets just as stung by his mother, Glenda. "I could hear skin slap skin and those various groans. I would have rather taken a beating." "Screaming just then came loud to my heart but wished I had fewer ears...The screams I bottled that time and all the other times similar waited and waited to be loosed until the time they were. I wish I could add none of this happened." "Every window we had opened onto a vista of tombstones, which included the window near my bed...When you look there that's what you see the dead long dead and fresh dead and in between." Shug is himself among the dead. The mowing of the cemetery should have been Glenda's job, but instead she pawns it off to Shug. Basil Powney is Red's sidekick. They were childhood friend's and served time in prison together. It is with Red and Basil whom Shug rides around from house to house acting as he is delivering the newspaper while he steals their medication right in front of them. Then Shug gets caught and is taken into custody to the police station. He asks for his mother and while Shug is walking home with Glenda along comes Jimmy Vin Pearce in his green thunderbird offering them a ride home. He tells Glenda and Shug if they ever want a steak dinner free to call on him. The most gruesome part of the story for me was when Shug discovers blood sprayed everywhere and he discovers blood and flesh on the leg of the table. Also when Shug finds a piece of flesh with red hair on the skillet in the sink. He also finds Red's boot in the sink and he hides it outside in the darkest part of the shed. I have an eighteen year old and a fifteen year old, both male and I can't imagine that I would leave a murder for my son's to dispose of the evidence. But, sadly it falls to Shug to mop and sweep and scrub the blood goo off the table leg. Sweet Mister will never be innocent again. This was a bleak but very powerful work by Daniel Woodrell. Not for the faint of heart but highly recommended. Five Stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    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 (whe 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, Greek tragedy, 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    This excellently written novel by Daniel Woodrell is about as warm and fuzzy as ground glass. In reading it I am reminded of something else Dennis Lehane once said, that "In Greek tragedy they fall from great heights ... in noir they fall from the curb." Shug Akins never even made it to the curb. This excellently written novel by Daniel Woodrell is about as warm and fuzzy as ground glass. In reading it I am reminded of something else Dennis Lehane once said, that "In Greek tragedy they fall from great heights ... in noir they fall from the curb." Shug Akins never even made it to the curb.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ned

    I have the sneaking suspicion that Woodrell has pulled a parlor trick and the room hasn’t noticed it. This is a deceptively simple, short, easy to read novel – but I am certain that its economy is hard won by reductive wordsmithing. First I must confess that I am positively biased, since this man represents my state and people, and I’ve met him twice, albeit very briefly, at book signings. I’ve also read most his repertoire and have been hoarding this and a couple more for a future date when I’m I have the sneaking suspicion that Woodrell has pulled a parlor trick and the room hasn’t noticed it. This is a deceptively simple, short, easy to read novel – but I am certain that its economy is hard won by reductive wordsmithing. First I must confess that I am positively biased, since this man represents my state and people, and I’ve met him twice, albeit very briefly, at book signings. I’ve also read most his repertoire and have been hoarding this and a couple more for a future date when I’m in certain need of greatness. This story is peculiar in the way it is told, from a young boy in poverty-stricken rural America, where dangerous men and animalistic, lascivious people roam and root. I don’t mix with these types out of luck, luxury and fear, but I have no doubt from what I can see that it is true and not uncommon in this United States of America (and likely the world over). Woodrell never deviates from the point of view, so the narrator’s point of view, who describes the world with baby words and ideas. This is disconcerting to an extent (there is no intelligent overlord interpreting for you, dear reader) but ultimately is the key to the story. What I realized after reading is that the child (on the precipice of arbitrary adolescence) does not “feel”, he cleans the horrors with an apoplectic disdain and then goes back to his compulsory eating as if it were nothing. This is certainly the result of psychological trauma where the injured seeks protection by killing all emotion. This is the horror of the story, but deceptively revealed in hugs, kisses, over-mothering, sweet uncles and all sorts of smiling yet depraved family and friends. The antagonist is fairly conventional, and his crude yet clever turns of phrase finely rendered (the author has somehow magically captured this talent for dialogue) and make the reading of this a joy. There are no heroes here, if you need those, just the dilapidated ennui of the impoverished underclass, scratching out a life of crime behind the façade of civilization. It is like his Bayou series, told from underneath this time, and certainly a predecessor to his most famous novel, Winter’s Bone. There is a cruel degree of explicit incest in here, so the faint of heart may be repulsed. Personally I need to look into the face of evil from time to time, to know it so that I can avoid it. Hearts are broken, tragically, but you probably know that going in on a Woodrell. One passage I circled (p. 73): “The car door opened and out came Red slapping at his face to bring himself all the way awake. He edged behind Carl and stood there. Him joining the group changed the feel of it the way one lit match does suddenly change the feel in a hay barn.” I’m giving it four stars since it is too brief and, I think, I’m missing some elements due my failure as a reader. But I reserve the right to upgrade !

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Mansfield

    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 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    This is a boys account,from a modern day underbelly family, he's a overweight teen living with a stepfather who dishes out violence drugs and alcohol. He watches his mother, who he admires and cares for, get beaten up by his stepfather and used by men for sexual purposes, eventually he feels if everyone has a slice of mom why can't I. His affection and attraction goes beyond being her son and eventually his mother gives in to his love which is quite shocking. http://more2read.com/?review=the-deat This is a boys account,from a modern day underbelly family, he's a overweight teen living with a stepfather who dishes out violence drugs and alcohol. He watches his mother, who he admires and cares for, get beaten up by his stepfather and used by men for sexual purposes, eventually he feels if everyone has a slice of mom why can't I. His affection and attraction goes beyond being her son and eventually his mother gives in to his love which is quite shocking. http://more2read.com/?review=the-death-of-sweet-mister-by-daniel-woodrell

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    "Our house looked as if it had been painted with jumbo crayons by a kid with wild hands who enjoyed bright colors but lost interest fast. That kid was me, in general, and I did try any paint we had in the shed." good book, great writing. sort of flannery o'connor meets james m. cain, with jim thompson running around planting dynamite here and there. i have a feeling that in a couple weeks that 4 star rating is either going to go up to 5 or down to 3. depends on how it all settles. helluva story, t "Our house looked as if it had been painted with jumbo crayons by a kid with wild hands who enjoyed bright colors but lost interest fast. That kid was me, in general, and I did try any paint we had in the shed." good book, great writing. sort of flannery o'connor meets james m. cain, with jim thompson running around planting dynamite here and there. i have a feeling that in a couple weeks that 4 star rating is either going to go up to 5 or down to 3. depends on how it all settles. helluva story, though.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Powerful witness. Completely chronological narrator, Shugs at 13. He is a son, obese, and you read his every thought and observation. His cognition, his emotive life, his self-identity- it changes. This first person chronological narration is pivotal for the power in this piece. I'll say no more until the Southern group read for August 2016. He becomes little different than the shot frogs. Dark. Brutal. Powerful witness. Completely chronological narrator, Shugs at 13. He is a son, obese, and you read his every thought and observation. His cognition, his emotive life, his self-identity- it changes. This first person chronological narration is pivotal for the power in this piece. I'll say no more until the Southern group read for August 2016. He becomes little different than the shot frogs. Dark. Brutal.

  26. 4 out of 5

    E.

    I truly enjoyed this. Even the darkest parts. I've only read "Winter's Bone" by this author, and I liked the same thing about both novels. Even the most casual observance of a frog, a dirt road, a sound from an insect, is a thing of beauty. Even seemingly mundane parlance of the dregs of humanity is delivered as prose. Because there is a constant undercurrent of inhumanity, barbarity, cruelness, any moment of calm is accepted as a kindness or even affection. Raised in the hill country of the Oza I truly enjoyed this. Even the darkest parts. I've only read "Winter's Bone" by this author, and I liked the same thing about both novels. Even the most casual observance of a frog, a dirt road, a sound from an insect, is a thing of beauty. Even seemingly mundane parlance of the dregs of humanity is delivered as prose. Because there is a constant undercurrent of inhumanity, barbarity, cruelness, any moment of calm is accepted as a kindness or even affection. Raised in the hill country of the Ozarks, Shug was about 13, overweight, no friends, at the mercy of his violent dope-head, dope stealing father figure, Red, who had only hateful, hurtful things to say to pretty much everybody. Glenda, Shug's mother, was also vulnerable to those around her, but she had a way to get her needs met. Even if there was a price to pay. Impressionable, but emotionally innocent Shug reluctantly spends time with Red, and is privy to his dirty dealings and his misogynistic affairs. Glenda still sees him as her child, but treats him, and leans on him as a man. But... "But you're not the same as any man, Shug. You're my sweet mister, see, and that's special." "Only to you," I said. "Far as I can tell." The result of these relationships is heartbreaking, shocking, but inevitable. As Shug points out a few times, "You raised me."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Franky

    Isolated and friendless, 13 year old Shug lives with his drunk and reckless mother (Glenda) near a cemetery. Forced to do “drug errands” for his abusive, low-life father (Red) and his buddy (Basil), Shug’s view of “normal” is quite distorted. His oft-drunk mother adds no sense of balance to Shug’s point of view. When a slick stranger (Jimmy Vin) rides into scene with his Thunderbird, things go even more off balance. There’s a definitive rawness to The Death of Sweet Mister, but Woodrell handles Isolated and friendless, 13 year old Shug lives with his drunk and reckless mother (Glenda) near a cemetery. Forced to do “drug errands” for his abusive, low-life father (Red) and his buddy (Basil), Shug’s view of “normal” is quite distorted. His oft-drunk mother adds no sense of balance to Shug’s point of view. When a slick stranger (Jimmy Vin) rides into scene with his Thunderbird, things go even more off balance. There’s a definitive rawness to The Death of Sweet Mister, but Woodrell handles the uncomfortable and the bleak with poetic perfection. As much as this book is about one character’s fall, it is also about the inevitability of escaping the world’s ruthlessness and bleakness. Individuals are sometimes ultimately sucked into worlds they have no desire to be a part of. Such is the case with Shug. Even the title itself—The Death of Sweet Mister—seems to signify a loss of innocence. Reading Woodrell’s work, I was reminded a bit of Flannery O’Connor’s writing (Jimmy Vin is an O’Connor character if I ever saw one). There’s a certain amount of nihilism mixed in with unusual, grotesque characters. From the depths of Woodrell’s prose comes grittiness, an uncomfortable, yet poignantly tragic ride. This book is a big shot of Southern Discomfort.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nick Younker

    I don’t know what it is, but it seems to me that Daniel Woodrell just became my favorite novelist. “The Death of Sweet Mister” is my first experience with Woodrell, and I probably won’t stop until I’ve consumed everything he has to offer. This novel could easily be classified as one of those “almost to real to be fiction” types. The 13 year-old boy named Shug, also the title character, knows only poverty and a life of crime in the Ozarks, a means to stay alive. The poor kid has a derelict mother I don’t know what it is, but it seems to me that Daniel Woodrell just became my favorite novelist. “The Death of Sweet Mister” is my first experience with Woodrell, and I probably won’t stop until I’ve consumed everything he has to offer. This novel could easily be classified as one of those “almost to real to be fiction” types. The 13 year-old boy named Shug, also the title character, knows only poverty and a life of crime in the Ozarks, a means to stay alive. The poor kid has a derelict mother who’s nice as can be to the boy, but selfish in her own way. Shug gets caught up with his mother’s boyfriend Red, who she also calls his father, and is forced to carry out his criminal endeavors on account that he’s a minor and would take less heat than the elders. I don’t want to say much more about this story ‘cause I don't want to spoil it for anyone. But the climax is at the end, where the story’s title makes it’s whopping debut.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Nature or nurture? After we'd kicked a ways down the dusty road she said, "You wake up in this here world, my sweet li'l mister, you get 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?" "I think so." "Hmm. There'll come a time when we'll just see about that. Mm-hmm. I'm dead sure that time is gonna come." Another excellent novel from Daniel Woodrell. 4.5* Nature or nurture? After we'd kicked a ways down the dusty road she said, "You wake up in this here world, my sweet li'l mister, you get 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?" "I think so." "Hmm. There'll come a time when we'll just see about that. Mm-hmm. I'm dead sure that time is gonna come." Another excellent novel from Daniel Woodrell. 4.5*

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kwoomac

    At first, I will admit, I was somewhat relieved to learn that Sweet Mister was a 13-year-old boy, and not a beloved pet,who was going to die. And poor Sweet Mister does die, but only figuratively.The reader watches as Sweet Mister moves from the (relative) innocence of his youth to his emergence as a bit of a monster, a carbon copy of the man who raised him. Reading Daniel Woodrell is always a visit to a desolate, desperate world full of characters you hope aren't real, but deep down you know the At first, I will admit, I was somewhat relieved to learn that Sweet Mister was a 13-year-old boy, and not a beloved pet,who was going to die. And poor Sweet Mister does die, but only figuratively.The reader watches as Sweet Mister moves from the (relative) innocence of his youth to his emergence as a bit of a monster, a carbon copy of the man who raised him. Reading Daniel Woodrell is always a visit to a desolate, desperate world full of characters you hope aren't real, but deep down you know they are.I always have to follow one of his books with something hopeful so I can erase the images from my mind. I'll leave you with a few of his words. This is why I read him.: An airplane, the passenger kind, passed overhead, a silver dot high in the blue, and made that sad hum from a thing far away and going farther that makes your chest leak air and feel hollow. The dog and me caught each other's eyes and the hound looked like he reckoned that at some other time him and me could be friends and yell at squirrels together. I eased into the room and looked for the bodies. I figures there'd be bodies. I never had figured I'd be the one who'd have to find the bodies.

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