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Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell
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Tomato Red (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Daniel Woodrell

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3121335,693 (3.73)38
Member:Devlindusty
Title:Tomato Red
Authors:Daniel Woodrell
Info:Henry Holt and Co. (1998), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 240 pages
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Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell (1998)

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Started well and sucked me in. Loved the characters and the story line, but was disappointed with the ending. Still, really enjoy the way Woodrell turns a phrase. Can't wait to read more by this author. Hopefully we haven't hear the last of Jamalee. ( )
  gkyoungen | Mar 24, 2014 |
Woodrell is such an amazing author he can make even the slowest moving story seem exciting (at least most of the time). I'm not sure what made me finish this book about four white trash self depreciating losers, except for how it was written. It's a story that I never would have cared to listen to, but somehow being told by Woodrell it doesn't seem like a complete waste of time. ( )
  beckylynn | Dec 9, 2013 |
Daniel Woodrell's Ozark novel's are masterpieces of literature. Beautifully written with language that keeps the reader spellbound. Having read a few other of his Ozark novels, I found this one not quite as good, hence the 4 star rating, but still very, very good. Tomato Red differs in that there is a sort-of happy ending, even if it is bittersweet and doesn't include everyone. It is a short book at just over 200 pages but as usual, Woodrell manages to fully flesh out the four main characters: Bev, the "whore", her two children 17yo gay Jason and slightly older sister Jamalee who wants to be rich and everything a Venus Holler resident is not. Along comes Sammy Barlach, drifter, petty felon, and all round loser who is taken right into being one of the family and maybe he will be the one who finally helps the family to more than just "dream" the impossible dream. But tradgedy strikes, someone is killed and now is the time for the future to be dashed or reclaimed. A sad tale of poverty and those looking only to be loved. Circumstances cause their downfall, not the past prejudices as to who they are hooker, homosexual, unrealistic dreamer, and petty felon. These are not even an issue when they make the biggest mistake of their lives and one of them has to brutally pay the price for it. A dark tale full of eccentric characters and even though the family is unique I found Sammy to be my favourite character as to what drove him to have the desire to be a part of and protector of this quirky, dysfunctional family. ( )
  ElizaJane | Jul 3, 2013 |
Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell, audiobook superbly narrated by Brian Troxell.

“You're no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it's been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you're fresh to West Table, Mo., and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a trailer court on East Main, and the coed circle of bums gathered there spot you a beer, then a jug of tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin' down with a miserable bluesy beat and there's two girls millin' about that probably can be had but they seem to like certain things and crank is one of those certain things, and a fistful of party straws tumble from a woven handbag somebody brung, the crank gets cut into lines, and the next time you notice the time it's three or four Sunday mornin' and you ain't slept since Thursday night and one of the girl voices, the one you want most and ain't had yet though her teeth are the size of shoe-peg corn and look like maybe they'd taste sort of sour, suggests something to do, 'cause with crank you want something, anything, to do, and this cajoling voice suggests we all rob this certain house on this certain street in that rich area where folks can afford to wallow in their vices and likely have a bunch of recreational dope stashed around the mansion and goin' to waste since an article in The Scroll said the rich people whisked off to France or some such on a noteworthy vacation.

That's how it happens.

Can't none of this be new to you.”

I bought Tomato Red because it was on sale on audible.com. I’d never heard of Daniel Woodrell or “country noir” but after that first paragraph-long sentence, oh, I was well and truly hooked.

I like noir and this is noir, alright. It’s dark and spare, brutal and dangerous and you know from the start it’s going to break bad. It’s occasionally funny, though always with an edge. Woodrell pulls you in: “you know how this stuff comes to happen,” and “can’t none of this be new to you.” Even if, at the beginning, you think you don’t know, you do know by the end. Or I did.

Sammy Barlach, the narrator of Tomato Red, will do most anything to find a place to belong. He’s always wanted to be the life of the party, and he’s always had a craving to be a hero. He’s a small-time thief who describes himself as “a kickaround mutt from Blue Knee, Arkansas, on my own slow ramble through sincere poverty and various spellbinding mishaps."

One of these amusingly-told mishaps starts the book when Sammy, high on crank, breaks into a high-end house in an attempt to please his new trailer court buddies: “I needed friends and . . . I could maybe yet return to the trailer park as both the hero and the sudden life of the party.”

Once in the house, he’s coming down from the crank and can’t do more than cop some vodka and cheese, stagger down a hall and crash in a wing-back chair. He awakens a day later to find a girl in a black gown and a very young man in a tuxedo standing over him. “Are you dangerous?” the girl asks. “You look dangerous.”

He takes these two for the owners of the house until the guy says “the law is out there with flashlights. Time to choo-choo, Sis” and all three take off running together. Jamalee and Jason Merridew, long-time residents of Venus Holler, the truly dirt poor part of West Table, are about to become the friends Sammy’s been looking for.

Jamalee is the “Tomato Red” of the title, with hair a color that would “look natural on something growing in the garden, but not on someone’s head.” She’s 19, tiny and wild and has big dreams.

Jason, Jamalee’s 17-year-old younger brother, is gay and stunningly beautiful. He’s going to be Jamalee’s ticket out of town to the heavenly high life of some place like Beverley Hills or South Florida. Her plan is to have a beauty salon in the fashionable part of town where Jason’s beauty can be used to lure rich women into compromising situations and then blackmail them.

Jason’s lack of inclination for sexual relations with women doesn’t bother Jamalee one whit, even though Jason is working through a major attraction to one of his male teachers. Sammy respects Jason because “a country queer like that is going to have his interior qualities tested a whole lot. You’ve got to have a suitcase of respect for such as come through that daily—nightly, too . . . .”

Bev, their mother, is a 40-ish hooker, “a Barbie who has gone to seed on roadhouse whiskey and pan fried chicken.” She lives and does business right next door to Jason and Jamalee in Venus Holler and, hon, there’s always a cold one in the fridge you can drink on the sofa while you wait for your appointment.

You know from the start that the life these folks are leading is a perpetual train wreck because of bad chances, bad choices, and because, like many of the rest of us, these folks don’t learn from their mistakes. As Woodrell says, “there are whole levels of American culture where they’d have to attend a class on how to apply for a job. I’m not trying to be mean; I’m just telling the truth. You’d actually have to tell them things like, ‘Now, don’t go in with liquor on your breath.’ Shit like that. Well, they’re not necessarily aspiring to the middle-class dream.”

The difference between them and folks with money is that when we face bad chances and make bad choices, we generally have both money and a social network to protect us. Sammy and the Merridews, poor and incapable of moving beyond poverty, do not.

This reality is clearly presented in Tomato Red and it breeds anger, violence and a lot of crazed, self-defeating behavior. Yet Woodrell doesn’t apologize for or patronize his characters. Even Sammy realizes, “I had been born shoved to the margins of the world, sure, but I had volunteered for the pits.”

Underpinning this are themes with which we're all familiar: the desire to belong, to escape from pain, to be happy, to exact justice and to wreak vengeance on those who do us harm or hold us in contempt.

I cared about Woodrell’s main characters. I wouldn’t want to hang out with them and their despair tastes bitter, but it’s too familiar to me not to believe and not to wish it could be different.

If you like noir, or even if you don’t, give Tomato Red a try. It’s a short, tough, superb book by an author who should be better known. It will leave you winded and amazed. I listened to it three times in succession and could easily have turned right around and listened to it again.

The complete first chapter can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/w/woodrell-red.html on the New York Times books site. ( )
4 vote mirrordrum | Apr 22, 2013 |
The Ozarks' Jim Thompson. A mini-masterpiece. Textured like Thompson's After Dark My Sweet. ( )
  RDHawk6886 | Sep 5, 2011 |
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Epigraph
Anybody possessing analytical knowledge recognizes the fact that the world is full of actions performed by people exclusively to their detriment and without perceptible advantage, although their eyes were open.

—THEODOR REIK
It's not all peaches and cream.
But I haven't learned that yet.

—OIL CAN BOYD
Dedication
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You're no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it's been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you're fresh to West Table, Mo., and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a a trailer court on East Main, and the coed circle of bums gathered there spot you a beer, then a jug of tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin' down with a miserable bluesy beat and there's two girls millin' about that probably can be had but they seem to like certain things and crank is one of those certain things, and a fistful of party straws tumble from a woven handbag somebody brung, the crank gets cut into lines, and the next time you notice the time it's three or four Sunday mornin' and you ain't slept since Thursday night and one of the girl voices, the one you want most and ain't had yet though her teeth are the size of shoe-peg corn and look like maybe they'd taste sort of sour, suggests something to do, 'cause with crank you want something, anything, to do, and this cajoling voice suggests we all rob this certain house on this certain street in that rich area where folks can afford to wallow in their vices and likely have a bunch of recreational dope stashed around the mansion and goin' to waste since an article in The Scroll said the rich people whisked off to France or some such on a noteworthy vacation.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452281946, Paperback)

The hero of Daniel Woodrell's Tomato Red is the most endearingly out-of-control loser you're likely to meet. Sammy Barlach looks like a person "who should in any circumstances be considered a suspect"; clerks follow him through the supermarket when he shops, and the police pull him over simply from habit. But in spite of his looks, Sammy only wants to be loved, even if it's just by "the bunch that would have me"--and in the hardscrabble world of West Table, Missouri, that's a bunch you wouldn't necessarily want to meet. The novel begins with a heady Methedrine rush, as Sammy celebrates payday by letting himself be talked into robbing a nearby mansion. Even when his newfound friends disappear as he's breaking in, he persists: "You might think I should've quit on the burglary right there, but I just love people, I guess, and didn't." The break-in leads Sammy into an unlikely alliance with the Merridew family: Jamalee and Jason and their mother Bev, a prostitute in the town's ironically named Venus Holler. Flame-haired Jamalee dreams constantly of a different kind of life, and she plans on using Jason's extraordinary beauty as her ticket out of West Table. Jason, however, seems to be shaping up as what Sammy calls "country queer"--which, as Sammy observes, "ain't the easiest walk to take amongst your throng of fellow humankind."

Unfortunately for Jamalee, Woodrell's Ozarks is a place that rewards ambition with disaster. Here as in his five previous "country noir" novels, Woodrell writes with a keen understanding of class and a barely contained sense of rage. The residents of West Table's trailer parks and shotgun shacks share Sammy's sense of limited possibilities. "I ain't shit! I ain't shit! shouts your brain," Sammy thinks while wandering around the mansion, "and this place proves the point." Even when Jason sticks up for his own family, the way he does so is heartbreaking: "This expression of utter frankness takes over Jason's beautiful face, and he says, 'I don't think we're the lowest scum in town.' He didn't argue that we weren't scum, just disputed our position on the depth chart." With her mildewing etiquette guides and grandiose plans, Jamalee is the only character who doesn't share their sense of defeat, and she's the only one who, in the end, gets away--though she leaves behind her a trail of betrayal and heartache. By the time the novel's final tragedy rolls around, it seems both senseless and inevitable, as tragedies do in real life. Told in a voice that crackles with energy and wit, Tomato Red is sharp, funny, and more importantly, true. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A group of petty crooks in the Ozarks organize a series of scams to get rich. One scheme is to have the hunk among them seduce, then blackmail rich women, another is to burglarize houses while the owners are away on holiday.

(summary from another edition)

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