Tomato Red

Tomato Red

3.9 31
by Daniel Woodrell

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Back in print, an acclaimed crime novel set in the Ozarks.

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Back in print, an acclaimed crime novel set in the Ozarks.

Editorial Reviews

Michael Lowenthal
A shimmering novel, rich with insight, Tomato Red -- unsentimental yet full of sentiment --helps ease the ache of human yearning. -- The Washington Post Book World
You read Woodrell for his language. He's one of those storytellers you lean into, so mesmerized by his cadences that even when he's telling you ugly things you want to hear more.
Christopher Tayler
Advertising its genre as 'country noir', Tomato Red keeps up a creditable impersonation of a thriller....Woodrell's novels veer disconcertingly, clumsily, sometimes brilliantly, between burlesquing the genres they ostensibly inhabit and investing them with an unexpected authenticity. —London Review of Books
Valerie Sayers
. . .Counters its sad themes with storytelling that is vivid, funny and full of bad attitude. . . .Woodrell's storytelling is as melodic, jangly and energetic as a good banjo riff.
The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Woodrell has no quit in him. The more he writes, the more you feel for the characters, the sense of place, and the extraordinary stories of hopes, dreams, and just plain living. The journey back to West Table, MO, introduces us to Jamalee, Jason, and Bev Merridew. Each one is quirky and damaged by life as Ozark white trash. Hopes for escape are pinned on Sammy Barlach, who has never had much more pinned on him than misdemeanors. Woodrell's language is a lyrical blend of comic wit and redneck twang. His vast life experience brings a fresh, poignant look at Appalachian people. Keep 'em coming! -- Shannon Williams Haddock, Bellsouth Corporate Library. & Business Research Center, Birmingham, Alabama
Jonathan Miles
I was a kick-around mutt from Blue Knee, Arkansas ... on my own slow ramble throughout sincere poverty and various spellbinding mishaps, says Sammy Barlach, the narrator of Tomato Red. Central to this novel, the sixth from Missourian Daniel Woodrell, are Barlach's mishaps in Venus Holler, a skanky little Ozark hamlet that "had the shape of a collapsed big thing, something that had been running and running until it ran out of gas and flopped down exhausted exactly here ... Scrub timber and trash piles and vintage appliances spread down the slopes and all around the leaning houses to serve as a border between here and everything that wasn't here."

That particular gap -- between here and not-here -- is as central to Tomato Red as narrator Barlach is; it might be said, in fact, that they play the same role. Barlach, the sort of homemade-tattoo-and-gimme-cap loser you find in the trailer park lit of Harry Crews and Larry Brown, drifts into Venus Holler and into the lives of a trio of its denizens: Bev Merridew, a pillar of Venus Holler whoredom, "a Barbie who has gone to seed on roadhouse whiskey and pan-fried chicken"; her 19-year-old daughter, Jamalee (she of the tomato red hair), a 5-foot goth Lolita with big plans to make it past the outskirts of town; and her brother Jason, a young man far too beautiful ("hoodoo sculptors and horny witches knitted that boy," Barlach says) and far too gay to live long in Venus Holler. Jamalee sees Barlach as the muscle she and her brother need to bust out of town -- someone to "help ... keep the nightmare straight," as Jamaleee puts it. Barlach has been places, seen things; he knows the not-here. At the novel's start, he's got nothing but time on his hands. It's not long before that time is replaced by a corpse, a mess of hot trouble and a goodly bit of female flesh.

As with his last novel, Give Us a Kiss, Woodrell bills Tomato Red as "country noir" -- a self-created genre that might have emerged decades earlier if Raymond Chandler and Erskine Caldwell had ever sat down to write a book together. Like Chandler, Woodrell writes with an almost filmic sense of place. The terrain of Venus Holler (and its parent town, West Table) plays as large a role as any of Woodrell's characters, a vividly rendered townscape that -- despite a token cast of bourgeois badmen -- is the root of the story's villainy. In the end, however, you may have a stronger sense of that terrain than you do of any of Woodrell's characters. Barlach pours out sermons about the differences between rich and poor -- between the here and not here -- but the people Woodrell uses to illustrate those differences never develop into anything more complex or sympathetic than sketches.

"All fiction begins with genre," said John Gardner, "but good fiction transcends it." For crime fiction, this is heady stuff, written so sharply and stylishly that one can almost hear Woodrell howling with delight when he hits a stinger of a line (and there are many). What Tomato Red lacks, however, is the power to transcend the limits of its own genre -- the whiff of humanity that great fiction emits. --Salon Aug. 7, 1998

Philip Oakes
Latest in the genre christened 'country noir'. Terrific if you can take the change of pace.
Literary Review
Kirkus Reviews
. . .[T]he author seems to have pitched this, his sixth low-down and dirty novel, to the big screen: his no-account characters and their dumb-as-a-stump doings have that over-the-top quality that transfers neatly to the movies; and his downbeat ending, with its teenaged femme fatale, is pure Hollywood noir. None of which is to say that here is inferior Woodrell. His singular voice still captures the redneck poetry of everyday peckerwood speech, and his tough-guy posturings reveal themselves as empty gestures. Add to that a new sense of class conflict as it plays itself out in semi-rural Missouri. Woodrell's loser narrator, 24-year-old Sammy Barlach, comes from Blue Knee, Arkansas, 'an hour and a tall beer to the Delta side of Little Rock.' A self-described 'cranked-out dipshit,' Sammy can't hold a job or a woman and soon falls into the 'nutsy actin' of two other, less lumpy lumpen proles who were also 'born shoved to the margins of the world.' Nineteen-year-old Jamalee Merridew, with the tomato-red hair celebrated in the title, hopes to escape the grind of low living by exploiting the phenomenal beauty of her younger brother, Jason, a budding beautician whose uncertain sexuality renders his sister's blackmail scheme moot. The siblings' unmarried mother, Bev, 'a Barbie who has gone to seed on roadhouse whiskey and pan-fried chicken,' supports her clan on her back. Jamalee meanwhile studies etiquette and dreams of living high. When her plans take a downward turn, with brutal consequences, Sammy, himself, craving to be a hero—just proves the truth of his down-home Hobbesianism: life is 'glum and grim and nasty.' Woodrell's sorry country folk 'live fast' and 'learn slow,' asJamalee puts it, and their tale provides lots of low comedy,and no small amount of pathos.

The Washington Post Book World
"A shimmering novel, rich with insight...a pleasure... Zooms on the rocket fuel of Woodrell's explosively original language."
Richard Eder
"Dan Woodrell does for the Ozarks what Raymond Chandler did for Los Angeles."

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Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 7.82(h) x 1.06(d)

What People are saying about this

Ed Gorman
Woodrell is one of those guys whose every utterance "transcends the mystery genre" -- at least according to the more pretentious critics. But read him anyway. He's sly, wily, mean, forlorn, and violent -- and he writes one hell of a sentence. He's also hilarious. He reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favorite writers, Erskine Caldwell. This novel takes a bunch of Ozark scumbags you'd be happy to run over (maybe even back over a few times) and makes them almost bedazzling in their earnest but mindless attempts to perfect a number of con tricks. Woodrell is well worth your time. He's that rarest of all writers, an original. —Ed Gorman

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