The people in Sweet Mister are broken and derelict, strong and resilient, funny and terrifying. The book opens with overweight thirteen-year-old Shuggie (Sweet Mister) being forced to climb up a drain pipe to break into a building to steal drugs for Red, his mother’s treacherous, drug-addicted boyfriend. We follow through the eyes of Sweet Mister, who doesn’t know who his father is. It’s rumored to be the town’s wealthiest citizen. That rumor, more like fabrication, is told to him in the aftermath of Red’s rage, after he’s torn through the house like a tornado destroying everything in his wake, almost like a fairytale, spinning evermore intricately by Glenda, his adored mother, the most beautiful girl in Missouri. Shug is willing to believe it. Anyone besides Red.
Shug is in love with his mother, and he wants a better life for her. Better than a life of stealing from other people, better than a life blurred by the aroma of alcohol and the buzz of pills, but convincing Glenda she deserves a better life is a challenge.
I loved following Shug on his ‘adventures,’ reading with trepidation at each new caper, worried for his safety, growing as he grows, learning as he learns. It was a good ride, sailing along in his thirteen year old mind, veering from thought to thought, encounter to encounter. It was a lot like reading Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Woodrell creates an enjoyably motley crew of characters, all living their lives, just trying to survive in the shadows of the myth of American exceptionalism.