Book Review: The Maid’s Version, Daniel WoodrellPosted: September 9, 2013
“A wolf will always look to the woods, no matter what you feed it.” (page 127)
At last, we have a new novel by Daniel Woodrell. His last published work and that’s not counting anything reprinted, was Winter’s Bone in 2006. I’ve read three full novels from him and consider myself a fan. The Maid’s Version (2013) is a historical novel about a small town tragedy that took place during the late 1920’s. The Maid’s Version is a personal book for the author because it’s based on a real event: the dance hall explosion that took place in his hometown in 1929. His grandmother (loosely depicted in the novel) recounts the events, rumors, speculations and what have you, to her grandson, set in the little town of West Table, Missouri.
Woodrell is good at telling stories. He’s especially good at conveying the misery and frustration of people living in poverty. This book had some sad moments. The novel is short at 142 pages. It is made up of short stories. The writing is evocative, giving us glimpses of townspeople and their life before the explosion adversely affected it. The novel spans many generations marked by certain events burned in people’s memories like The Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and for the people in the Ozarks, the Arbor Dance Hall explosion that killed half the town. Thirty years later people still no closer to the truth. Was it an accident? no one knows for sure.
I love stories set in small towns. I guess because every town has its deeply buried secrets and their own code of silence. In this one, there’s an underlying tone of class division and social injustice among other things. The characters are vivid thanks to the first person narrator. There are abbreviated moments of calm and violence. I’ve read that Daniel Woodrell is a modern-day William Faulkner. I’ve never read Faulkner (plan to rectify this!) but for those who have, that should give you some idea (maybe) of the kind of fiction Daniel Woodrell writes: dense, beautiful prose that moves at a leisurely pace and that could be read over again to catch meanings or themes that were missed the first time around. My letter grade is an A. This was an excellent novel about class, tragedy and generational poverty among other themes.