Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell

     I had never heard of Daniel Woodrell before one of my recent weekly sweeps through Publisher’s Weekly.  I’ve read a fair amount of literature about Appalachia (not nearly enough, but is it ever enough?) but not about the Ozark region, which is Woodrell’s main focus.  He’s from that area originally, and his writing emphasis is on folks who live poor and hard, are often violent, and usually Tomato reside in a setting outside "nice" America.  Such is the situation with Tomato Red, a book I picked out for the title, and by the finish of the flyleaf, was sucked in to Woodrell’s universe.

    Our main character is Sammy Barlach, recently out of prison and on the road to nowhere.  His road drops him off at West Table, Missouri, a small town of haves and have nots.  A dare to burglarize a local mansion acquaints him with Jamalee and Jason Merredew, siblings who will do anything to get out of a squalor-filled future in West Table, preferably away from their mother, who lives next to them and turns tricks for a vocation.  What they will do to accomplish this winds up involving Sammy in ways he never knew. 

     I enjoyed the book, although it is not for the squeamish.  It’s a page turner and fairly short.  Woodrell has a unique manner of phrasing and a highly twisted sense of humor.  What could have been a completely gritty and tragic story (and it is in a lot of places) made me laugh out loud at several points, as Sammy and the others try to make sense out of a series of quandaries, including taking on shady cops and the town country club crowd. 

     Woodrell has a new one coming out soon (Winter’s Bone) and I am really curious to see what he does with it.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


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