While I’ve only read Winter’s Bone and a couple stories in The Outlaw Album, I consider myself a Daniel Woodrell fan, and I am very impressed with his latest book, The Maid’s Version. I was entranced from the beginning, which I happened to read aloud. Woodrell’s prose is so good: evocative, dense, and he captures the feeling of the young grandson listening to his grandmother Alma, the maid of the title, tell the story of the Arbor Dance Hall Explosion that killed forty-two people, including her sister Ruby, in 1929.
The story is the story of the town of West Table, Missouri, which is in the Ozarks. There are vignettes about the people who died, and there are stories about Alma and her family through a number of generations. I know it’s common to say that the town or the setting was a character too, and I think in The Maid’s Version West Table is a character whose every aspect is laid bare: classes, genders, businesses, crimes, and more. Life without the social safety nets established after the Great Depression was bleak.
The Maid’s Version is a short book– only 164 pages in my version– and I found it best to read it in small chunks in order to retain more of the characters names and their relationships. As I said earlier, the writing is dense. The denseness is not a criticism of the writing at all, I just had to adjust my usual reading style to enjoy the book more. I also think it would be great in audio, based on the snippets I read aloud.
I purposely avoided talking about the plot and details of the story both because the book is so short and because the quality of the writing struck me even more than the story, which is rare for me. The Maid’s Version is one of my favorite books of the year.