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Cover image for The death of sweet mister : a novel
The death of sweet mister : a novel
Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, ©2001.
Physical Description:
196 pages ; 20 cm
General Note:
"A Marian Wood book."
Shuggie Akins is a lonely fat boy of thirteen whose father is a brutal man and whose mother "teases him with her sexual provocations" and then begins a torrid affair with Jimmy Vin Pearce.--Jacket.


Call Number
Woodrell, D.

On Order



In Daniel Woodrell's fiction, how the world sees you is how you come to see yourself. Failure is built in, and violence, petty crime, and jailtime are the common coin.Shuggie Atkins is a lonely fat boy of thirteen. His mother, Glenda, teases him with her sexual provocations. His father, Red, is a brutal man with a short fuse who mocks and despises his son. Into this mix comes Jimmy Vin Pearce with his shiny green T-Bird and his impeccably smart clothes. It isn't long before he and Glenda begin a torrid affair. What follows is violent, shocking, and completely unpredictable-except that it is totally foreordained.

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Shuggie Akins, an awkward 13-year-old, lives with his mother and Red in a caretaker's house on graveyard grounds. Red's been married to Glenda since Shug was born, but it's uneasily, tacitly understood that he is not the boy's biological father. A small-time crook, the physically and verbally abusive man steals everything from televisions to shipments of silk blouses. For recreation, he forces Shug to creep into the houses of terminally ill people and rob them of their prescription drugs. At one point, Shug witnesses the funeral of a small boy, one of the victims of Red's thieving. One night, Red gambles away Glenda's stolen silk blouse and demands that she remove it in front of Shug and the winner of the bet. Glenda seems to dote on her son, but never enough, of course, to remove them from the situation. She calls him her "sweet mister"-sort of a cross between the clich?s of a "true gentleman" and a "knight in shining armor." She's physically affectionate with him, and her behavior infuses Shug with a kind of seething, uncomfortable lust. While his relationship with Red is openly brutal, it is the relationship with his mother that is the more dangerous and fascinating. Woodrell is an absolute master at building tension in relaxed prose, and the novel has a haunting and wonderful force. Events churn to a head when Glenda meets a slick, citified man with a shiny Thunderbird, and decides to leave Red-and Shug-for the promises he offers. Sweet mister's death, for the record, is a figurative one, yet it feels more tragic than a literal one.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Woodrell (Tomato Red) excels at depicting the seedy side of Southern living, and in this brooding coming-of-age tale he revisits the hardscrabble Ozarks town of West Table, Mo., his dark, insistently realist prose packing a visceral punch. Overweight 13-year-old Shuggie Atkins, sharp and cynical for his age, lives in a ramshackle house situated in a "bone yard" with his perpetually drunk and dreamy mother, Glenda, and his savage stepfather, Red. Despite Red's hot temper, Glenda's tendency to behave foolishly and Shuggie's frustrations, their lives settle into a rough-hewn rhythm: Red comes and goes as he pleases; Shuggie tends to the graveyard grass and helps Red steal painkillers from helpless cancer patients; and Glenda sips her "tea" cocktails and flirts with Shuggie. Then balding but classy Jimmy Vin Pearce roars into their lives in a shiny green T-bird and begins an affair with Glenda. Overcome by jealousy, Shuggie must decide should he betray his mother or grant her happiness? Woodrell displays his characters in an unforgiving light, never succumbing to the urge to romanticize them. Through unsparing prose and deft characterization, he conveys the harsh philosophy best summed up in one of Glenda's rare bits of motherly advice: "You wake up in this here world, my sweet li'l mister, you got to wake up tough. You go out that front door tough of a mornin' and stay tough 'til lights out have you learned that?" Woodrell's merciless realism is shot through with humor and rural wisdom; his work may not be to everyone's taste, but his bleak world is rendered with consummate artistry. (May 21) Forecast: Woodrell is a cult figure in England and elsewhere in Europe, where he was on the short list for the 2000 Dublin International Literary Award. Count on good reviews of this novel to raise his profile here. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A long-suffering kid draws the bars of his own cage, in Woodrell’s tender and downright merciless seventh novel (after Tomato Red, 1998). The author’s previous work reaped praise for its depiction of Ozark lowlifes, as well as for capturing the inadvertent beauty of redneck speech. These elements are present again, but having 13-year-old Shuggie Akins narrate quells the comedy and heightens the pathos. The boy is an unresourceful Huck Finn, including even the brutal father but without the option of hopping on a raft and skipping town. Father Red’s orneriness (“he had a variety of ugly tones to speak in and used them all at me on most days”) is intensified by his not being Shuggie’s real father; and when not off “scallybippin’” with his one obsequious crony, or roughing up the family, Red makes the boy break into bed-ridden people’s homes to steal dope. Woodrell’s sketches of invalids are windows into tiny realms of helplessness. But the weirdest and most affecting moments come when Red is out of town (which is often) and attention shifts to Shuggie’s relationship with his mother Glenda, who, skimpily dressed, steadily downs her rum-and-cola “tea.” As caretakers isolated in the middle of a graveyard, mother and son address each other in creepily unorthodox ways: she calls him “hon,” he calls her Glenda: “Living alongside the gathered dead of our town was a thing me and Glenda never did fear ’cause we never done them no dirt when they lived.” The actual plot—in which Glenda tempts the wrath of Red with an ill-chosen affair—has trouble generating interest beside the eerie revelations of character and the artfully artless language: “Except for the noise of the tractor it rode about the way I figured some horses might. Except also for the stink of the smoke and gas and the noise when the gears gnashed.” Such narration carries this novel—and it’s a weighty, worthwhile load.

Booklist Review

"You wake up in this here world, my sweet li'l mister, you got to wake up tough. You go out that front door tough of a mornin' and you stay tough until lights out--have you learned that?" The problem is that Sweet Mister, aka Shuggie Akins, isn't tough. He's 13, he's lonely, he's fat, and he's scared, but he's not tough, at least not tough enough to protect himself and his mom, Glenda, from his dad, Red, a career criminal with an unquenchable thirst for pharmaceuticals of every variety. This third in Woodrell's stunning series of "country noirs" --following Tomato Red (1998) and Give Us a Kiss (1996)--returns to West Table, Missouri, deep in the Ozarks, where the fuses are short, and the tragedies, like the thunderstorms, are just waiting to happen. Woodrell describes the lives of his Ozark hill folk with unflinching honesty, but he never fails to find heartbreaking tenderness beneath the hardscrabble surface. This time that tenderness is more fragile than ever, more capable of turning on itself and producing bursts of blood-driven violence. Narrator Shuggie is a kind of noir Huck Finn, his life as an apprentice criminal--forced by Red to steal pain medication from the terminally ill--a suggestion of what Huck might have been in for had Pappy not died. Between slurping rum and cola, Glenda lavishes attention on her "sweet li'l mister," but that, too, is a thunderstorm waiting to crack, as the line between motherly concern and sexual provocation becomes harder for Shuggie to draw. And, then, inevitably, Jimmy Vin Pearce drives up in a green Thunderbird, high-pressure system meeting low-pressure system, and the storm breaks. It may sound like an updated version of God's Little Acre, but in Woodrell's hands, it's not in the slightest imitative. He finds poetry in pathos, but he also turns coming-of-age into a bargain with the devil. A word-perfect conclusion to an unforgettable trilogy of novels. --Bill Ott

Library Journal Review

Woodrell's six previous novels (e.g., Tomato Red) have gathered more acclaim in Europe than at home, but Putnam is hoping that the situation will change with this new novel. Set in Woodrell's native Missouri hill country, it presents one eventful summer in the life of Shug, a friendless, overweight 13-year-old living with his mother in the caretaker's cottage at the local cemetery. Glenda flirts incessantly, even with her son, who is becoming increasingly aware of her charms. Glenda's husband, Red (who may or may not be Shug's father), comes and goes, bringing money occasionally and strife a lot more often. This summer Red is training Shug in the family business, using the juvenile without a record to perform the burglaries that are getting too risky for Red himself. Shug's efforts to protect his mother from Red, from other admirers, and from her own rash decisions come to a head one hot summer night. The gritty realism of this quick, compelling read won't be to every taste, but Woodrell's latest novel is recommended for public libraries. Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.