THE DEATH OF SWEET MISTER
by Daniel Woodrell
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In The Death of Sweet Mister, award-winning author, Daniel Woodrell delivers his most powerful work to date, a darkly penetrating look at a young man's descent into the world of adults.
Shuggie Akins is a lonely, overweight thirteen-year-old who has no friends in West Table, Missourior anywhere else. He lives in the cemetery caretaker's house with his scantily clad, floozy mother, Glenda, who spends most days intoxicated, and his pill-popping father, Red, a drunken criminal with a lengthy record and a tendency for violence. Then along comes Jimmy Vin Pearce in his shiny green T-bird and his smart city clothes. Soon, he and Glenda are engaged in a torrid affair that will set in motion a series of events that are shocking in their unpredictability and inevitability.
In this "raw, heartbreaking, and unbelievably good" (Kansas City Star) look at a young man's descent into the world of adults, Daniel Woodrell's Shuggie Akins is perfectly drawnand with as powerful a voiceas Huck Finn or Holden Caufield.
ABOUT DANIEL WOODRELL
Daniel Woodrell is the author of six widely acclaimed novels, including Tomato Red (available from Plume), for which he received a PEN West fiction award in 1998. Woodrell lives in West Plains, Missouri.
Did you find writing from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old difficult?
No, I found it to be liberating and intense to assume the voice of Shug. As with many youngsters he is direct in his language, honest to a fault, I guess, but there are things he knows but doesn't want to admit out loud that he knowsthings about Glenda, his parentage and so on, so that there is a slippery, evasive quality to him as well. His voice was a pleasure.
Did any particular person, scene, or idea serve as the inspiration for The Death of Sweet Mister?
Yes, the book is dedicated to a kid I knew when I was a kid. He lived in circumstances close in nature to those of Shug. I was once on hand to witness a scene in his house, a scene with his father and his father's sidekick and a stack of swag. That moment hung in my mind all those years since until it became this novel.
Did you start out feeling more affection and/or compassion for some characters than others? If so, did this change over the course of the process?
I guess I am, by some standards, indiscriminate in my sympathy/empathy distribution. I believe in redemption but I also believe that to be of any true value, instead of merely a cosmetic salve for the conscience, redemption must be held out as a possibility for even the worst among us. Note that I said "a possibility." So, though it may not be easily understood by some, Red actually became more of a human being to me as the book progressed. The other two lead characters had my goodwill from the start, but Red surprised me. Not a good person, but I came to understand him more deeply than I would have predicted. His way of life is one I can clearly comprehend if not admire.
Who are some of the writers you most admire?
I admire almost everybody in the canon, in one way or another, but I feel a special kinship with writers who might be said to be on the fringes, or underbelly of the mainstream literary world. Renegade writers, writers who won't obfuscate with sentiment just to be ingratiating, who do work that is unapologetically true and unblinking, harsh and dark, and tip their hats to nobody. Among these are; Gertrude Stein, Jim Thompson, Faulkner, Sean O'Faolain, Tom Kromer, Eugene O'Neill, Aeschylus, Shena Mackay, Edward Anderson, Chester Himes, Elio Vittorini, John McGahern, Dashiell Hammett, Beppe Fenoglio, Cormac McCarthy, David Storey, Flannery O'Connor, Robinson Jeffers, John Edgar Wideman, John Fante, Michael Rumaker(Gringos) and plenty more where these came from.
What are you working on now?
I am embarking on more tough tales set in the Ozarksa novel called Paradise Moves, and some short stories centered around a family I introduced in an earlier novel, a large and infamous backwoods criminal clan called The Dollys