Flashing back to 1929 and the small town of West Table, Missouri, The Maid’s Version, centers around Alma DeGeer Dunahew, a domestic servant for one of the more prominent families in town, and a mysterious explosion at the local dance hall which instantly kills forty-two of the area’s residents – including Alma’s scandalous sister Ruby.
Alma and many of the townspeople feel the calamity was not an accident, but a purposeful act of malice, and throughout the book, different possibilities about who might have been responsible for such an evil deed are explored.
Interestingly, the tragedy in The Maid’s Version is based on a real-life incident and possible unsolved crime that happened in West Plains, Missouri in 1928, which is Daniel Woodrell’s hometown. In fact, his family has a burial plot just 50 feet from the memorial to the unidentified victims of that catastrophic explosion.
The Maid’s Version is only 164 pages in length, almost novella sized, but it is not a quick or easy read. It delves deeply into a community’s secrets, mistrust, anger and heartbreak. It is also heavy with themes that Woodrell commonly explores in his writing – including hardship, economic/class division, and social consciousness.
Additionally, some might accuse The Maid’s Version of meandering at times in its story development, but what it is really doing is skillfully unpeeling the layers of a small Ozark town one character at a time, often in an uncomfortable manner because the residents of West Table are not “feel-good” people. They are suspicious, complex, and appear very hard around the edges – just like the novel.
With an obvious tension, The Maid’s Version unfolds in a way that requires your complete attention. As you turn each page, you learn disturbing details about different townsfolk, their histories, their possible motives for committing the crime, and the effects that the horrific event has had on them and their descendants, even more than 80 years later.
By the end, The Maid’s Version successfully and lyrically intertwines possible reasons for the sadistic explosion with the deep-rooted relationships among local families and the community until it overlaps into the story of what Alma believes truly happened on that dreadful evening.
Although The Maid’s Version won’t necessarily leave you feeling content, happy or even satisfied at its conclusion, it is a good example of skilled literary fiction and a beautiful writing style that easily transports you into the Missouri Ozarks and into the harsh lives of the characters. You can almost physically feel their pain, anguish, and attempt at healing as they struggle to deal with a tragedy that scars them and their town forever.
|Daniel Woodrell- photo from Google|
The The Maid's Version is his ninth novel. His first collection of stories, The Outlaw Album, was published in 2011. Today, he enjoys living in the Missouri Ozarks where he is contemplating his next novel.