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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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3391832,414 (3.76)50
Member:Devlindusty
Title:Tomato Red
Authors:Daniel Woodrell
Info:Henry Holt and Co. (1998), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell (1998)

  1. 10
    The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock (RidgewayGirl)
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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Daniel Woodrell is an author that I find very readable, his books are usually set in the Ozarks and his writing captures the flavor and styling of red neck recklessness. I did find Tomato Red to have a sad theme dealing as it does with the despair and hopelessness of being on lower end of the social scale with no escape route from the white trash world they were in but the book is nevertheless vividly and humorously written.

Sammy Barlach, the narrator and anti-hero of the book tells his story honestly and simply. During the course of a break-and-enter robbery of a vacant house, he comes into contact with the engaging sister and brother team of Jamalee, the Tomato Red of the title and her brother, Jason. Sammy is pulled into their life and before too long finds himself living with them next door to their prostitute mother, Bev. They become a weird sort of family with Sammy being rather taken with both mother and daughter.

Of course being a Woodrell novel, violence is always on the horizon and although this story becomes a tragedy, the telling of it is colorful and engaging. At times, Tomato Red is a little overwritten and melodramatic, but the author is extremely adapt at telling a story that can change from light-hearted humor to dark violence within a page. Sammy’s story is in reality a strong, violent statement on the hopelessness of poverty in America. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | May 14, 2016 |
Audio, another great Woodrell book ( )
  KathyGilbert | Jan 29, 2016 |
Sammy Barlach is looking for a cross to hang himself on and he finds just the right one when he meets Tomato Red.

Tomato Red, aka Jamalee, and her brother Jason live hanging by their fingernails in a backwater town in the Ozarks. When they meet Sammy they feel like they’ve found the right fall guy/battering ram to help them get the hell out of there. Nothing is clear though as to how or from whom. Instead Woodrell paints a deeply layered picture of poverty, hopelessness and crystal clear knowledge of where those things will get them.

Sammy narrates the tale and his voice is cutting and incredibly descriptive in a jangly and unexpected way. I loved it. The writing is raw, imaginative and deft and reminded me of William Gay. I think they deal with similar themes. Gay is more gothic and Woodrell more noir, if that makes sense. This is not a book you can skim and you won’t want to despite the fairly bleak circumstances. The thing is, Sammy himself is not bleak. He takes life as he finds it and while not always doing the easy thing, he does what feels right to him and always pays the price without whining or recriminations.

Going in Sammy pretty much tells you that his tale won’t end well and there’s no reason to think he’s lying. The denouement is subtle, but treacherous and I had to go back to an earlier scene to make that final one line up because I had forgotten which thread bound them together. When it hits it's like a heavy blow that you knew would hit you eventually, but didn’t see coming. Very effective without being hyperbolic or graphic. Sad, too, but there is a slim cord of hope in the end, but I do wonder if it will hold. ( )
  Bookmarque | Oct 10, 2015 |
Once in a long while, a book comes along whose narrative voice is so compelling it grabs you from beginning to end. This was one of those books.

The four main characters occupy the lowest rung of the social totem pole in the Missouri Ozarks. The observations our narrator makes can sometimes be hilarious:

"The Merridew kids shared the coop with Rod's dog. It was a shaggy, lazy dog named Biscuit who had the personality of a defeated old alcoholic uncle, more or less. Biscuit mainly just laid there and thumped his tail pleasantly. Once in a while he goes to the screen door and stands there scanning the street like he's hopin' to see the mailman bringing his disability check, then moans in disappointment and flops back down."

But make no mistake. This book is no comedy. It hardly can be, when the people at the center are treated as society's throwaways, for whom there is no justice and it is dangerous to have dreams. Here's the lesson:

"You know, the regular well-to-do world should relax about us types. Us lower sorts. You can never mount a true war of us against the rich 'cause the rich can always hire us to kill each other. Which they and us have done plenty, and with brutal dumb glee. Just toss a five-dollar bill in the mud and sip wine and watch our bodies start flyin' about, crashing headfirst into blunt objects, and our teeth sprinkle from our mouths, and the blood gets flowing in such amusing ways. Now it's always just us against us--guess who loses?"

This book illuminated an American subculture very different from my own--one where the American dream has gone to die--and I think it will stay with me for a very long time. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
If you are from "the wrong side of the tracks" can you ever realize your dream of becoming something more than poor white trash? Jamalee has dreams of rising above her social status. At nineteen, she lives with her younger, beautiful, gay brother; their prostitute mother lives next door. Sammy Barlach, a 24-year-old drifter looking for people to belong to comes into their lives and becomes part of the plan.

This is a melancholy story; it's hard to believe that life holds any major promise for Jamalee and her family. The writing is masterful; it really contributes to the mood of the story. And the ending felt like a punch in the stomach. ( )
  LynnB | Dec 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:29 -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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