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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Woodrell's seventh novel is easily his darkest -- which is something of an accomplishment, considering the general timbre of his work. Father of the "country noir," Woodrell has managed to accrue a devoted cult of readers, writers, and critics that include the likes of Dennis Lehane, Ron Hansen, James Ellroy, and Charles Frazier, while remaining a well-kept secret from the book-buying public.
The Death of Sweet Mister tells the chilling story of 13-year-old Shug Akins, a "fat boy" living in the Missouri backwoods with his trampy but essentially well-intentioned mother Glenda, and Red, an elusive, abusive, pill-popping parolee who may or may not be his father. Forced to commit petty crimes ("men stuff") with Red and his pal Basil, and taunted by Glenda's suggestive manner, Shug navigates the marshy swamp of adolescence with little more than his own intuition to guide him. When a T-bird-driving chef named Jimmy Vin Pearce arrives in town, however, Glenda sees her chance for change and begins a reckless affair that sets in motion a course of events at once horrifying and inevitable.
Shug's voice is so charged with sincerity, his developing sense of self so believable, that it is impossible not to read this novel in one sitting. Woodrell writes potently about the air of sexuality and violence surrounding the family, but The Death of Sweet Mister never depicts their behavior gratuitously; instead, Woodrell slyly compels the reader to conjure up the disturbing acts of his characters without ever having to describe them. We imagine what his characters imagine, and in doing so, we come face to face with parts of ourselves we either buried long ago or never dared consciously to confront. (Cary Goldstein)