Monday, January 31

Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer received this book through Book Crossing. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Plume and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Jamalee Merridew, the girl with the tomato red hair, wants nothing more than to get out of the Ozarks with her younger – and far more beautiful – brother, Jason and away from their prostitute mother.

Enter Sammy Barlach, a drifter with no aim in life and no expectations for himself. He's pulled into the Merridews' lives and finally feels like he has found somewhere with people who will have him...but what price will his place with the Merridews finally bring?

This book was handed to me at a Book Crossing meet-up. I had never heard of the author or the book before, although I was also informed that another one of his books, Winter's Bone, had been made into a film and was now in cinemas.

I was pulled into 'Tomato Red' right away by the writing and the narrative voice. The book is told in first person by Sammy Barlach, who begins his journey in the novel, high on the drug dubbed "crank." Sammy is a humble character, who doesn't think much of himself or where his life is going. His narrative voice is sardonic and he has a unique view on the mundane things around him. The similes and metaphors are written in such an inventive way that I could not help but reread them and marvel at the excellence of the writing.

The book is a lot more about characters and their way of life than it is about plot development. I really liked the character of Sammy. He was wonderfully written and so real. The character of Jamalee Merridew was a real contrast to Sammy, who wants nothing but to get away and have a better life. She can never be satisfied with the poor state of her life and she strives to get away at any cost.

I liked Jamalee's character just for her stark difference to Sammy. I could empathise with her because of her desire to run away from a place where she felt trapped, but I also felt removed from her because of her situation with her family, where she held her prostitute mother in disdain but would still use her brother’s stunning good looks to get her where she wanted to go. She sulked a little too much and didn't seem to have the willpower to do anything on her own, which I think just showed the juxtaposition of how she wanted to be independent and free but was caught in the need to depend on others.

Tomato Red is a fascinating read and a fantastic example that reading outside the box can introduce you to some brilliant writing.

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