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'TOMATO RED' | A review Language is as colorful as title



Published: Sun, February 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Daniel Woodrell's book is a lyrical look at life in the Ozarks.

By THERESA HEGEL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

"Tomato Red" by Daniel Woodrell (Plume, $13.00)

With language as colorful as its title, Daniel Woodrell's "Tomato Red" captures the raw, poetic voice of a hapless drifter desperately seeking a place to belong.

Sammy Barlach comes to the Ozark town of West Table, Mo., and gets a job at a dog food factory. His first weekend in West Table, Sammy finds himself committing a crime.

Ennui, the effects of recreational drugs and casual lust for a female acquaintance combine, leading him to the unoccupied home of wealthy citizens who happen to be vacationing in France. A flurry of flung firewood and a broken window later, Sammy is in the house, but he soon loses his buzz and his nerve.

Not knowing what else to do, Sammy breaks into the liquor cabinet and drinks himself to sleep. He wakes up to the faces of Jamalee and Jason Merridew.

At first, he mistakes them for the owners of the house. However, he soon realizes they are fellow burglars. The siblings are in his social stratum, but they dream of a life of luxury and elegance, which lies, they are certain, somewhere beyond the borders of Missouri.

They break into the homes of the vacationing rich in order to practice at the sophisticated lifestyles they both resent and covet.

Big dreams: Jamalee and Jason have big dreams and big plans. In order to transcend a lower-class lifestyle, Jamalee will pimp her brother Jason, whom she refers to as "the prettiest boy in the Ozarks," to his drooling throngs of female groupies.

The siblings enlist Sammy as their muscle and let him live with them in Venus Holler, which Sammy calls the most low-life part of West Table. Once the section of town reserved for prostitutes, Venus Holler consists of "small, square homes that lean sideways a bit like a bunch of drunks who can't quite hear each other."

Family: At the siblings' hovel in Venus Holler, Sammy meets their prostitute mother and their dog Biscuit. For a time, Sammy becomes a part of the strange little family.

Things seem to be looking up for Sammy Barlach.

But then, circumstances sour, and dreams are murdered. In the end, Sammy remains a drifter with no place of his own and no family or friends.

Woodrell's writing is vigorous and lyrical. As funny as it is tragic, "Tomato Red" is an insightful look at how people react to the lives dealt to them.

hegel@vindy.com




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