I first heard of Woodrell from Tod Goldberg, who recommended Sweet Mister as a good place to go next (I'd already devoured Tomato Red in a day or two), and he was right.
I still remember the scene in Sweet Mister where the main character, a fat awkward 13-year-old boy named Shug (how do you not love a fat kid named Shug?), arrives home to find a heinous mess and no one is to be found. He's been through some kind of hell at this point, so he begins cleaning up the blood and other mess. His mom comes home to find him sitting in front of the TV, waiting up as though he is the parent. Something is hardening in the boy. Mom asks if he wants a snack, and the way everything is built up by Woodrell and the way the kid says, "I could use a snack," had me laughing for hours. At least that's how I remember it.
Here's how it really happened:
Somebody bleeding had whirled and whirled in the kitchen. Dishes had crashed about and made a mess. The blood had whirled odd spots and streaks onto the stove, the walls, the floor, the ceiling. The kind of plates we had that could be broken were busted on the floor. The radio played olden rhyming rock'n roll songs. A leg was gone from the table and the table bent over, the top touched to the floor like it kneeled to beg . . . Some streaks of blood seemed to yet be moving down the sides of things. That music played that I never did care to hear and I turned it off . . . Hands had posted bloody signs along the wall and into the hall. The signs were smeared. Her room was down the hall. Her room with the bed was down the hall . . .
The table leg had landed behind the fridge. I picked it up. Blood and skin stuck to the heavy end. I carried the table leg to the john and stood over the tiny pond. I used my blade to scrape the table leg. It was a sliver of meat ripped loose from some part of a person. Maybe a lip. Maybe a ear. Almost a eyelid but probably not. The meat looked sad with no face to frame it. The skin came off like goo and as the goo hit the water I flushed . . .
I folowed the blood around the kitchen with a sponge. The blood had in some places splashed out pictures. Mostly faces or maps. I rubbed and rubbed. I stood on the stove to scrub swipes of blood that had spurted to the ceiling. I found drops to scrub all over. They got into the strangest places.
I ellipsesed the passage a bit, so I hope it gets the gist. It's so so good when you get to it in the novel. I think I read this book two or three years ago and I still remember it vividly.
Even though his novels present a story where things definitely happen, Woodrell's odd (in a very good way) turns of phrase enliven everyday language and his mastery of voice is so powerful that there are moments in the book where story falls away and you're sitting there with this character you could listen to forever.
So far, I've read Tomato Red and The Death of Sweet Mister. I loved them both. I recommend them highly. Guy's killer.
And, thanks, Tod, for introducing me.
Here is an interview with Woodrell on NPR, from when Winter's Bone came out. There's an excerpt, too.