Several years ago - sheesh, it must have been the mid 1990s, like 95 or so? I read a novel by Daniel Woodrell. It was one of those occasions where I started reading the book over my morning coffee and, having nothing to do that day that couldn't be out off, I simply continued reading, all day, til I had finished the novel, in one sitting. I was absolutely floored by it. It was Give Us a Kiss.
Ever since then, I'd been meaning to read more Woodrell and I finally got around to it recently on a day trip to Chicago for work. This time it was Tomato Red. Oddly, I started reading the book in the morning at the airport, continued on the cab back to the airport, the flight back, car ride home and, whattaya know, finished the whole damn thing. In a day.
What great days those were, because Daniel Woodrell is an excellent novelist. He gets a lot of praise for the subject matter he covers - he calls it "country noir," tough, thoughtful crime novels set in the Ozarks or other parts of the South - but, really, he's just a great writer with a great voice, a gift for words, subject and dialogue. His characters are Faulknerian in setting and outlook, crafty and worldly while still being backwoodsy like Faulkner's characters, but also modern and unique to Woodrell. Give Us a Kiss is about a writer who returns to his Missouri homeland and gets involved in a family fued over a pot crop. Tomato Red is about "them such as us," a smart white trash guy who falls in with a family of toughs and, due to his need to belong, to create family, follows what seems to be his tragic destiny.