Daniel Woodrell is a writer’s writer, much admired by his peers. It has been five years since Woodrell published his last novel, “Winter’s Bone.” He is reportedly at work on his next one.
Woodrell has described his stories as “country noir.” They are usually set in the Ozarks where the author grew up and where he still resides. Some of his early works have been out of print. A recent search on Amazon.com revealed that new copies of some of these out-of-print titles can sell for a hundred dollars and even more.
Woodrell’s current publisher, Little, Brown, just re-issued four of these out-of-print classics. Woodrell’s fans can now obtain reasonably priced copies of “Woe to Live On” (1986), “Give Us a Kiss” (1996), “Tomato Red” (1998) and “The Death of Sweet Mister” (2001).
“Woe to Live On” takes place in Missouri and Kansas during the Civil War. Jake Roedel is riding with the rebel force known as the First Kansas Irregulars. Scores are being settled. Skirmishes are frequent. Revenge, long smoldering, is bursting into flames of retribution. Woodrell’s depiction of all this action and the shifting loyalties of the combatants is splendidly wrought. The surprise attack on the Union stronghold of Lawrence, Kan., is particularly vivid.
“Give Us a Kiss” is a classic yarn about a backwoods feud. Doyle Redmond is a shiftless middle-aged writer who is on the run in a car he has “borrowed” from his wife. She is preparing to divorce him. Doyle ends up in his old rural Missouri stomping grounds. There he learns that his brother is cultivating a large crop of marijuana. Meanwhile The Redmond’s arch-enemies, the Dolly clan, are plotting to steal their illicit cash crop. This is one wild tale.
“Tomato Red” opens as a ne’er do well named Sammy Barlach is breaking into an luxury home in rural Missouri. He’s not really a burglar but he is quite intoxicated: “I slithered inside, uncut, and tumbled among the riches. My distance perception had gone tilt in my head and that floor reared up and swatted me awful quick.”
Upon regaining consciousness he encounters the Merridews, Jason and Jamalee, brother and sister, she of the tomato red hair, inside the home. But they are not the homeowners. The Merridews hope that Sammy can provide them with the muscle to help them to break free from their tragic lives in Venus Holler, Missouri.
“The Death of Sweet Mister” is another mesmerizing tragedy. Shug Atkins lives with his mother Glenda in a rural community in the Ozarks. Shug is thirteen years old, heavy for his age, and isolated. His mom seems to be the only one who really cares about him. She calls him her “Little Mister.”
Red, the man who might be Shug’s father is a drug addict and a career criminal. Cruel and manipulative, Red forces Shug to burglarize houses in search of pharmaceutical booty to steal.
Glenda falls in love with Jimmy Vin Pearce, a smooth-talking cook with a fancy car. She tries to conceal their affair, but this romance unleashes a chilling chain of events.