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Country noir

Wednesday, 8 August, 2012

Tomato Red “Then this instrument, a clarinet I thought, started to be played out there in the night. I could hear it clear but that music had traveled to reach me. It seemed to be from atop the ridge above the holler. The song was kind of ragtime tune, sort of jaunty and limber. The cats took it for the call of a great leader, or something, and bawled their respect.” Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell.

Only someone with a real talent for storytelling could write, “The cats took it for the call of a great leader, or something, and bawled their respect.” But there’s more to Woodrell than wryness. At one point in the story, 19-year-old Jamalee Merridew finds “a great thick dilapidated and somewhat dampened book of manners” that she hopes will guide her out of Missouri hopelessness, and Daniel Woodrell is at his best when describing her attempts to decode the rituals of the non-poor. Snippet:

“Which is the proper response to a written invitation? When introducing couples what name is given first, the gal’s or the dude’s? When does a man take his hat off, and why is he wearin’ one anyhow? What is the usual hour of the day to start passing the jug around an an informal wine-tasting party? Does shrimp cocktail call for this fork or that fork or some other goofy utensil you never heard of and wouldn’t recognize if the First Lady stabbed it into the back of your fuckin’ hand?”

The unfolding, there, of Jamalee Merridew’s interior recognition that it is pointless to even attempt to emulate her betters is deeply moving and it shows that Daniel Woodrell is the king when it comes to depicting country noir.

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