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The Death of Sweet Mister Hardcover – May 21, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (May 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399147519
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399147517
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #905,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Penzler Pick, June 2001: This is Daniel Woodrell's third book set in the Ozarks and, like the other two, Give Us a Kiss and Tomato Red, it peels back the layers from lives already made bare by poverty and petty crime, exposing the reader to the raw everyday hopes and fears of the poor and the helpless.

Told through the voice of an overweight 13-year-old boy named Shuggy Atkins, this is the story of Shug; the one person who loves him, his mother Glenda; and her boyfriend Red, a brutal and ignorant man. Red hates Shug but uses him to break into houses to steal drugs and anything else that can be sold. Glenda makes a meager living looking after the local cemetery and spends her time trying to keep Red amused and away from Shug, whom he loves to humiliate but whom she adores. Glenda is Shug's only champion. She calls him Sweet Mister as she continually boosts his confidence and promises a better life for him, if not for herself.

But when Glenda sees a beautiful, green Thunderbird with leather seats and its driver, Jimmy Vin Pearce, a chain of events is set into motion that will end in violence and bloodshed. Glenda must keep hidden from Red her infatuation with Jimmy Vin's money and fine clothes while she and Shug dream separate dreams of making a new life away from the violence.

Woodrell writes books that are small in volume but large in scope. It is impossible to put down this story of less than 200 pages until the final tragedy unfolds. --Otto Penzler

From Publishers Weekly

Woodrell (Tomato Red) excels at depicting the seedy side of Southern living, and in this brooding coming-of-age tale he revisits the hardscrabble Ozarks town of West Table, Mo., his dark, insistently realist prose packing a visceral punch. Overweight 13-year-old Shuggie Atkins, sharp and cynical for his age, lives in a ramshackle house situated in a "bone yard" with his perpetually drunk and dreamy mother, Glenda, and his savage stepfather, Red. Despite Red's hot temper, Glenda's tendency to behave foolishly and Shuggie's frustrations, their lives settle into a rough-hewn rhythm: Red comes and goes as he pleases; Shuggie tends to the graveyard grass and helps Red steal painkillers from helpless cancer patients; and Glenda sips her "tea" cocktails and flirts with Shuggie. Then balding but classy Jimmy Vin Pearce roars into their lives in a shiny green T-bird and begins an affair with Glenda. Overcome by jealousy, Shuggie must decide should he betray his mother or grant her happiness? Woodrell displays his characters in an unforgiving light, never succumbing to the urge to romanticize them. Through unsparing prose and deft characterization, he conveys the harsh philosophy best summed up in one of Glenda's rare bits of motherly advice: "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 stay tough 'til lights out have you learned that?" Woodrell's merciless realism is shot through with humor and rural wisdom; his work may not be to everyone's taste, but his bleak world is rendered with consummate artistry. (May 21)Forecast: Woodrell is a cult figure in England and elsewhere in Europe, where he was on the short list for the 2000 Dublin International Literary Award. Count on good reviews of this novel to raise his profile here.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

I finished this book with a feeling that I ought to read more Woodrell.
Sean C.
This is an exquisitely told story that is as striking in its tragedy as it is in the perfect imagery that Woodrell's prose evokes.
Reading Woodrell's lifelike and telling depiction of their existence leaves you feel like showering and brushing your teeth.
Michael K. McKeon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Colin Paterson on June 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having read and admired several of Daniel Woodrell's books, I was very pleased to see that this one had been released.
As with the previous "Tomato Red", this one is well-written and wondrous in the simple, unadorned tone of the narration. However both of these books are difficult to gush over.
These are dark gems. And they lack the allure that the common reader expects.
When we are moved to feel joy or sorrow by an author, we have no trouble considering that genius is involved. With Woodrell though, the emotions are more complex. And he can stir up things which we might prefer to have left hidden and forgotten.
This is definitely genius. Especially when someone such as Woodrell accomplishes this with a subtlety that is remarkably profound.
In this book, we are given the sad story of thirteen-year-old, overweight Shug Atkins. His is about the furthest thing from an "aw shucks" coming-of-age tale you can get.
Shug and his mother Glenda live in a shack on the grounds of the cemetery they maintain. Here they are plagued by the abusive Red. Red may or may not be Shug's biological father -- he probably isn't but this has never been made clear to Shug. Despite that, Red acts the father role and displays some of the most despicable ways possible for a grown man -- he is definitely an inappropriate role model.
Glenda has always relied on her looks even though they haven't gotten her very far. She's about little more than sex and as age advances has little in her life but maintaining an anaesthetic level of drunkenness. Far from being a perfect mother, she is still Shug's most likely ally -- a relationship that has all the possibilities for the perverse one can imagine.
Shug's world is full of dysfunction.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on February 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
Have you ever truly, physically "ached" with pity? When I closed "Death of Sweet Mister," I shut my eyes and hoped to forget Shugg Akins, but knew I never would. I just sat there dry-eyed and hollow. This is quite a testament to author Daniel Woodrell's skill, but at a price I'm not certain I wanted to pay.
Shugg aka "Morris" aka Sweet Mister is fat and thirteen, a bit of an outcast with his peers (because he's fat? poor? at the bottom of the poor white trash social scale? -- we don't know.) Shugg, our narrator is bright, quick, and a pragmatist through and through. He goes along to get along. His only champion is his mother Glenda, a pretty lady whose looks didn't get her very far, whose only weapons are persistent sensuousness and an ever-present silver thermos containing rum-laced "tea." Shugg's nominal father (probably not) is Red Akins, a cruel, brutal, truly evil man whose purpose in life is drinking, drugging and make certain Shugg and Glenda's lives were spent in abject humiliation. Red is not smart, but he is a shrewd and cunning, formidable foe. "Foe" is the wrong word for Red; you'd no more oppose him than an evil force of nature. I once read of an Australian Wandering Spider, one of the most venomous spiders in the world who is so aggressive that if you try to kill him, say with a broom, he climbs right up the broom handle and goes after you, and isn't satisfied with one bite--he keeps on biting till he's through. Red is a subhuman Wandering Spider.
Red and his pal Basil drag Shugg with them to steal drugs from terminally ill people and doctors' offices, the theory being if Shugg gets caught, as a juvenile, he will only be reprimanded.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "fridalover" on June 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
of incest. I knew he'd finally get to it and wow!- he does it with such smooth and seamless prose and just the right amount of tension that he rivals James M. Caine's renderings on such a shadowy subject. As with previous works, Woodrell proves he's a writer's writer with this dark portrait (reminds one of Faulkner's Sanctuary) of southern culture on the skids. Woodrell's style is so economical and subtle that the tension build-up throughout the novel doesn't hit until the final scenes and then it hits you right between the eyes, sharp and swift,like you're a frog being gigged by some redneck, hillbilly swilling cheap beer and looking for trouble beneath a pale moon.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Timothy on May 29, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is as real as the land and the people of The Ozarks. Brutal, beautiful and set apart from the rest. The Death of Sweet Mister gets under your skin and chews away far deeper than Winter's Bone. A masterwork of backwoods poetry and the syntax of reality.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Graeme Newcombe on July 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is about as dark as they come. Wonderfully written by a bloke who has an amazing ability to use the language. The story of a boy growing up on the wrong side of the tracks..violent father, uneducated family, drugs, alcohol, crime, sexual abuse. You name it.
However be warned that the book bites. It is very powerful with a surprising but sadly inevitable end.
Read it if you dare, and think about following up all the author's books. I think he is underappreciated
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Charlie Dickinson on August 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Daniel Woodrell's last novel, Tomato Red, was about classism experienced by poor whites in the author's native Missouri Ozarks. Woodrell's latest, his seventh novel, The Death of Sweet Mister, has a tighter focus--more psychological, less sociological--that yields a jewel of a literary noir: Think of Oedipus Rex set in the backcountry, seasoned with a bit of James Ellroy. This is not an easy story to tell. Themes about incest among poor whites can easily lapse into the degrading stereotypes of genetic insufficiency attacked in Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto, and elsewhere. No, Woodrell has all the compassion for his characters that any literary master knows they need to live on the page. Although excellent, be warned, however, this is one of those "and they didn't live happily ever after" tales.
With Shuggie Akins, a obese, lonely, thirteen-year-old adrift among adult misfits, Woodrell again creates a first-person voice that convinces: The people, the place come alive wholly from inside--moreover, because of--Shuggie's language: "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." Inventive linguistic genius of this sort goes on page after page and if at first a surfeit of these gems seems to slow the reading, don't worry: The voice creeps up on you and stays as an agreeable companion. Like a "Thunderbird (that) seemed to instantly comb the bumps from the road ahead to keep the ride always gentle," The Death of Sweet Mister reads smoothly.
At first, Shuggie's story seems about the rite of passage a teenage boy takes to manhood.
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