The Death of Sweet Mister is dark, disturbing, violent and unnerving. Its compelling readability is due partly to author Daniel Woodrell's unique voice, with a writing style that is clever and simple, but impactful and clearly unforgettable. It is also because of the intensity instilled in Shuggie Akins, the main character.
The story is told in first person, from Shuggie's perspective. The narrative is written in backwoods, uneducated slang. But the writing has a lyrical way about it, helping keep the story's timing and delivery on target. Shuggie is an overweight boy, unsure of himself and fearful of his verbally and physically abusive father, Red. He is Sweet Mister to his mother, Glenda, a lush who lives life behind a veil of booze she refers to as "tea". She doesn't dress motherly. She doesn't act motherly. She tries to protect her Sweet Mister from her swift-fisted husband. But she also leans on her Sweet Mister for support, but the way she leans is provocative and unhealthy and confuses Shuggie all the more.
Shuggie's father Red is worthless, fresh out of prison and afraid that one wrong move will put him back in the pen. That doesn't stop him from breaking the law; it only makes him more cautious about doing so. He and his buddy enlist Shuggie to help them on their breaking-and-entering sprees, stealing prescription drugs from patients recently released from hospital stays. When Shuggie is caught by the police, Red will do whatever he has to to ensure Shuggie doesn't rat out his ol' man to the cops.
Things get out of control when Glenda meets a man, a chef, who promises her the world. He plans to take her away from the life she's been living. She and Shuggie are anxious to go. It seems like only one thing stands in the way: Red.
Shuggie doesn't see his mother as a mom. He sees her as a woman in the way she behaves and the way she enjoys teasing men. He knows how important it is to get away from Red, not just for her sake, but for his own. The man is dangerous, and unraveling more and more by the second. But Glenda's chance at freedom from the man she married comes with strings attached. How far is she willing to go to get away from it all for a shot at happiness with a man she barely knows?
An amazing storyteller tells this unsettling and sad tale. The award-winning novel, The Death of Sweet Mister grows a fisted knot in the reader's gut from the opening pages, and that knot never fades away. Ever. This is a novel
whose characters haunt you long after you've finished reading the book.