Tomato Red

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Reviews of Tomato Red (1 review)

5 - Excellent Review

Reviewer:

Call me twisted (and more than a few people have), but I love this book. I read Winter's Bone (for which Dan Woodrell is best known), and liked it, so I bought Tomato Red in paperback and scanned it myself to read. Then I lent the book to my mom to read ... and she HATED it ... but she remembered it. What's so great about it? Unlike the relentlessly grim Winter's Bone, Tomato Red excels at telling a sad story in a funny way. Sammy Barlach, our hapless narrator, has a marvelously wry voice, self-deprecating, never making excuses for himself, never sounding "too smart" like some of these fictional dirtbags who suddenly start quoting Socrates or something. He's always coming back to the idea of "the bunch that'll have you." Which is really all he wants, a bunch that'll have him, and in the Merridew clan, he thinks he's found his bunch: Jamalee, the bright, ambitious daughter; Jason, the sweet, sexually confused son; Bev, the affable hooker mother. All have lived their lives on the wrong side of the tracks, Sammy just about having given up hope, but Jam is full of plans for escape. But nothing comes easy to people like these, and Jam's plans backfire, or "turn extra big-deal wrong," as Sammy puts it, and "something you never intended to happen that day has all of a sudden gotten up in your face and happened." As the story unfolds, there are frequent blackly humorous episodes: Sammy repossessing a bunch of his cassette tapes, Sammy going to have a little talk with the music teacher attempting to seduce Jason by playing his clarinet outside the Merridew house, Sammy and friends getting followed around the grocery store, Jason's unsuccessful attempt at stud-for-hire, the constant banter between Jam and Bev. But, make no mistake, it's a sad story, and when it finally ends in a totally irrational act of violence, it's Sammy's chronic loneliness that causes it: "The bunch that'll have me, I don't like for them to change their minds," he says. Through it all, the characters are always genuine and believable, if not exactly your standard definition of "likable." Sammy might be an ex-con former dog-food plant employee with a temper, but his honesty and willingness to stick by his friends is affecting, and in the end, this is what makes the story work so well. It's not pretty, but not easily forgotten.