No Exit Press, £14.99 stg
Daniel Woodrell's latest offering, 'The Death of Sweet Mister', has received great critical acclaim in his native country and it's not surprising as he turns his distinctive style to that element of American society known as trailer-trash. What makes Woodrell's book so unique and truly electrifying is how he avoids becoming trapped by cliché in telling the story of 13-year-old Shug, an overweight outcast, who lives with his mother Glenda in the Missouri hill country and is the "sweet mister" referred to in the title.
Glenda flirts with everyone, including her son, who is becoming dangerously aware of her sexuality as he grows older. Her husband Red (who may or may not be Shug's father) drifts in and out of their lives and brings trouble every time he's around. During this particular summer, Red engages Shug in helping him perform burglaries in the local area while Glenda meets a charming older man who she sees as an escape route from her worthless life. However, Shug's increasing obsession with his mother comes to a head and a series of shocking events results in a disturbing loss of innocence that will never be reclaimed.
Not one character in Woodrell's novel has any redeeming qualities and there are no heroes in this story. As the book progresses, it becomes alarmingly obvious that Shug will never grow up to become a "sweet mister" – the pet-name his mother has given him – but is turning into the complete opposite. This is a powerful and thoroughly disconcerting story of a young man who never had a chance, thanks to the mistakes and failings of the adults around him.