Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I have now finished reading Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell but I can't take any credit for discovering this little masterpiece of noir. It was recommended by Reed Farrell Coleman in this interview with Megan Abbott.

A city boy from Brooklyn charmed by Woodrell's tale of Ozark mountain redneck angst.

Underrated is easy: Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell. That that book is out of print is in itself a crime.

I find it difficult on occasions to agree with The Independent viewspaper, but their review is pretty accurate.

"A flat out marvellous book........great literary fiction."

In the Ozark town of West Table, Missouri, the Merridews live in Venus Holler, which marks them out as "blighted white trash". Sammy Barlach, a drifter and failed everything, meets up with easy going Bev Merridew, her tomato red haired daughter Jamalee, and her beautiful son Jason. With Sammy on the team Jamalee's dreams and desire for a new life somewhere else, anywhere else, begin to take shape.

It seems simple Sammy will provide the muscle and Jason's beauty will provide the money as rich women pay for his favours.

But Jason's inclinations are more towards the "iron-pumping queer" music teacher Mr Hart, than the ladies who frequent the hairdressers where he works.

Jamalee is forced to seek work at the plush golf club and her rejection leads to tragic consequences.

This novel is all about character, atmosphere and the wonderful descriptive passages . The plot is secondary because we can be pretty certain that there are going to be no miracles in the bleak lives of these rednecks.

"You people are the lowest scum in town."........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 we weren't scum,just disputed our position on the depth chart.

I have never been to the Ozarks but if they are like the mountains of Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee or Eastern Kentucky at least these losers had the small consolation of living in a beautiful setting.

They'd been holding those kids as hostages to the welfare machine and drawing decent ransom he'd installed Jamalee to answer the phone and mimic his woman. A piece of paper had been taped to the wall above the phone, and it had files, sort of, on his kids: birth dates, eye colors, school situations, excuses: so Jamalee could talk straight to any social welfare snoops.

Daniel Woodrell wrote Woe To Live On which was made into what I think was one of the best war films of all time, Ride With The Devil directed by Ang Lee and starred Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just read a book (a novella, really) by Daniel Woodrell called Winter's Bone. The setting is the same as Tomato Red and although the plot is very different, one has the same sense of "no way out for these characters".
Have not seen the film you recommend but maybe will try among all the other things I want to watch and read.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

"Ride with the Devil" apparently did not go down well in the USA, although with Ang Lee directing it was a brilliant film.
One reason for its unpopularity was the accurate portrayal of the brutality of the civil war in Missouri with both sides committing atrocities. Another reason, and Woodrell himself mentions this, was that the film shows a black man riding with the Confederates. Historically this happened on many occasions but to say so in a movie was very politically incorrect.

10:39 AM  

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