Tuesday, September 3, 2013
THE MAID'S VERSION by Daniel Woodrell
Less than 200 pages? How could it be that such a spare novel can lyrically relate a story revealing long held secrets that will haunt you and break your heart? It simply does. Daniel Woodrell is an accepted master who writes stunning powerful stories that pack a wallop. He chooses his words judiciously treating readers to a heady mix of a poet’s voice and backwoods vernacular. The Maid’s Version is a gem.
Set in the Ozarks the center of our story is Alma DeGeer Dunahew, an illiterate retired maid who lives in West Table, Missouri. It is in the 1960s that her grandson, Alek, is sent to spend the summer with her. Little did he know that he would be the one to hear her story, actually an unburdening of her feelings, her quest for revenge.
Alma is haunted by the death of her sister, Ruby, and 41 others in the 1929 Arbor Dance Hall Explosion. “Walls shook and shuddered for a mile around and the boom was heard faintly in the next county south and painfully by everyone inside the town limits.” This was a disaster that affected everyone in town, rich and poor. It spread sadness in every neighborhood “with an indifferent aim.”
She only speaks to Alek at any length when she is relating her memories of the horrorific event. While Ruby may not have been a woman of the highest virtue she was dear to Alma who does not believe the explosion was an accident and is determined to avenge it. Someone must bear responsibility.
Woodrell suggests many culprits including bank robbers and an Old Testament preacher who has his own way with the Ten Commandments. The chapters are short, too brief for the reader who has been gripped by Woodrell’s tale. Each word and phrase commands our notice as we move to a surprising denouement.
The Maid’s Version is a work of art quite worthy of celebration.
- Gail Cooke