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The Death of Sweet Mister: A Novel by Daniel…

The Death of Sweet Mister: A Novel (original 2001; edition 2012)

by Daniel Woodrell, Dennis Lehane (Foreword)

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Title:The Death of Sweet Mister: A Novel
Authors:Daniel Woodrell
Other authors:Dennis Lehane (Foreword)
Info:Back Bay Books (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Untitled collection

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The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell (2001)




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“Warning signs are flashing by but we pay no heed
Instead of slowing down the pace, we keep pickin’ up the
Disaster’s getting closer every time we meet
Goin’ ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.”

Country music star, Hank Snow, had a hit with the song Ninety Miles an Hour Down A Dead End Street, and this very song kept playing in my head every time I picked up [The Death of Sweet Mister] by Daniel Woodrell. As the pages kept turning, I could see disaster coming and yet could not turn away.

This is a powerful book, written in a straight-forward take no prisoners style, with razor-edged dialogue that feels authentic and real. Set in the Missouri Ozarks, a place that seems to be a rule upon itself, the story is told by thirteen year old Shug Atkins who paints a grim picture of his life. He lives with his mother, Glenda and his so-called father, Red. Red spends most of his life either in jail or on his way to jail. He is a cruel, ignorant and brutal man. Glenda is a beautiful woman-child who gets through life by staying drunk. She calls Shug her Sweet Mister, and relies on him for most everything.

Without going into plot details, there are no rainbows on the horizon here. Made all the more emotional by it’s simplicity, [The Death of Sweet Mister ]is a sad and merciless look at a life that seems destined for failure. Yet despite it’s bleakness, this was for me a stirring read that will long linger in my mind. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Jan 23, 2014 |
Shug, whose mother affectionately calls her sweet little mister, has been dealt a tough hand in life. He's thirteen, overweight and friendless, with an alcoholic and promiscuous mother and an abusive father his mother hints isn't really his father. They live in a small house in a cemetery, the rent paid in exchange for keeping the cemetery grounds, which falls mainly on Shug to maintain. His father, Red, is a petty criminal with a record who starts including Shug in his activities in that Shug is told which houses to break into and Red and his friend keep the proceeds. Set in the early seventies, The Death of Sweet Mister is a grim and heartbreaking story which should be hard to read, but Daniel Woodrell has given Shug a sweet, clear voice that speaks in the cadences of a poor boy in a rural community. Shug really is a pleasure to spend time with, even if there's very little happiness in his life. He does love his mom, who loves him in return and he's curious about the world around him.

Woodrell writes about poverty-stricken rural communities like no one else. He captures relentlessly hard-scrabble lives with compassion for their narrowness of circumstance and lack of opportunity. He also writes people who, even in the limited choices offered, consistently make the wrong ones. There's an inevitability in what happens to Shug, but this doesn't make the ending of this short novel any less surprising. ( )
1 vote RidgewayGirl | Feb 25, 2013 |
Reason for Reading: This may sound weird but, I enjoy reading well-written depressing books.

I have never read this author before nor actually even heard of him, but he caught my eye when I saw that the publisher had reprinted all his works in a new line of trade paperbacks. I had a hard time deciding which book to try first but this one seemed to fit my interests well and it was short so a good one to try a new author. It is really hard to use words such as "I liked" or "I enjoyed" with such a brutal and sad story. If you like happy endings or rays of hope, this is not the book for you as it is the complete opposite. We see a poor family living well below the poverty line, the word family here is optional as the parents are each extremely dysfunctional though in completely different ways. But they both have the same effect on the boy. This is virtually his coming-of-age story. The story is brutal in its harshness and honesty. I don't want to tell the topics it deals with as that would giveaway a major spoiler to the plot, but let's just say the book becomes harder and harder to read as the plot and the characters become more and more broken.

This was an emotional, tough read but well worth it. Achingly well-written, the despair and cruelty that is so real in this story touched me deeply. Personally, for me, I "enjoy" this type of story, and this one in particular because it brings home the reality, to me, of a life without Jesus. Unimaginable emptiness. ( )
  ElizaJane | Jun 5, 2012 |
A story about the animal nature of love and sex and the cruel, cold, hard world. At the end of the day, sometimes, bad choices are all that remain. Here Ye! Here Ye! and Lest Ye Forget!!!...Daniel Woodrell is a supremely talented writer ( )
  ktp50 | May 21, 2012 |
Ok, this book was introduced to me as a challenge from a friend who thinks he can get me to read outside of my comfort zone. Well, alright now. I read it.

I guess it was more or less what I expected (especially since I know what my friend likes to read). It was definitely about a totally dysfunctional family set in the Ozarks. The narrator is Shuggie Akins the son of a woman named Glenda and a man who is almost unknown. The man, however, that he lives with is referred to as "Dad" but we know that isn't true. Dad is an awful character. He is a thief who steals for drugs; he drinks too and has a side kick named Basil. As would be expected Red aka Dad beats up his wife, womanizes and brow beats Shuggie into doing his dirtiest deeds for him.

I won't go on any further because if you are the least bit interested in this book (it's only 196 pages long) you'll figure out the story.

I met the challenge. I am unfazed, unimpressed and not inclined to read anything further by Daniel Woodrell. ( )
  Quiltinfun06 | Jun 15, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452283302, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:44 -0400)

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