A sharp and funny addition to Daniel Woodrell's collection of "country noir" novels, featuring anti-hero Sammy Barlach and Jamalee Merridew, her hair tomato red with rage and ambition.
In the Ozarks, what you are is where you are born. If you're born in Venus Holler, you're not much. For Jamalee Merridew, Venus Holler just won't cut it. Jamalee sees her brother Jason, blessed with drop-dead gorgeous looks and the local object of female obsession, as her ticket out of town. But Jason may just be gay, and in the hills and hollows of the Ozarks that is the most dangerous and courageous thing a man could be.
Enter Sammy Barlach, a loser ex-con passing through a tired nowhere on the way to a fresher nowhere. Jamalee thinks Sammy is just the kind of muscle she and Jason need.
"You're no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it's been a gray day sogged by slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom...." So begins the bravura first paragraph of Woodrell's sixth novel (after Give Us a Kiss). As readers of Woodrell's previous fiction will expect, we are in the Ozarks--in West Table, Mo., to be specific. Sammy Barlach, our narrator, is a case--at the moment, he's employed in the dog food industry, but he's just met a girl "with teeth the size of shoe-peg corn" who's well supplied with crank and, toward the end of their weekend spree, suggests that they rob a mansion whose owners are (notoriously) on vacation. In the course of executing this plan, Sammy meets fellow burglars Jamalee and Jason Meridew--a sister and brother pair from Venus Hollow who break into wealthy houses in order to try on clothes and make believe they are rich. Jamalee, however, plans to make it big by using her brother's remarkable looks to seduce, then blackmail, the wives of the rich. (The hitch: Jason's tenuous, possibly nonexistent, interest in hetero sex.) Meanwhile, Bev Meridew, their mother, supports herself as a freelance goodtime girl and occasional snitch. Sammy moves in with this incestuous group as Jamalee's idea of muscle until even he can't protect them or their dreams from the nastier elements of Venus Hollow. The dialogue and characters are what keeps this awkwardly plotted little number plugging along. Woodrell isn't interested in Li'l Abner cutouts. These figures are all bluff and sorrow, and Woodrell succeeds in giving their misfit poetry a genuine C&W resonance that lingers beyond the last page. FYI: Ang Lee is currently directing a movie from Woe to Live On, Woodrell's second novel.
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This book is different from most. It's funny, tough, sad and raw. It will definitely not disappoint if your looking for something creative and realistic. Give it a shot!
So touching. Impossible to put down.