Review: The Maid’s Version, Daniel Woodrell
From Goodreads.com: Alma DeGeer Dunahew, the mother of three young boys, works as the maid for a prominent citizen and his family in West Table, Missouri. Her husband is mostly absent, and, in 1929, her scandalous, beloved younger sister is one of the 42 killed in an explosion at the local dance hall. Who is to blame? Mobsters from St. Louis? The embittered local gypsies? The preacher who railed against the loose morals of the waltzing couples? Or could it have been a colossal accident? Alma thinks she knows the answer-and that its roots lie in a dangerous love affair. Her dogged pursuit of justice makes her an outcast and causes a long-standing rift with her own son. By telling her story to her grandson, she finally gains some solace-and peace for her sister. He is advised to “Tell it. Go on and tell it”-tell the story of his family’s struggles, suspicions, secrets, and triumphs.
This was my first Woodrell book, and now I think I really have to go back and read Winter’s Bone. I still have to see the movie, but my inability to ever see movies is another story. Clearly this was not a happy book, I think you have to be in a mood for a dark story to read this. This is definitely the choppiest story that I have read in a really long time. I really enjoy multi-narrator books but this took me a while to get used to. Alma’s grandson, Alek, begins the story reminiscing of his summer spent with his grandmother Alma and alluding to a rift between Alma and his father. The story follows Alek talking about his time with Alma; the town at the time of the explosion and the aftermath; and then focuses from Alma to her son, Alek’s father. Interspersed with the story are very brief chapters focusing on the other victims of the explosion. Other reviewers complained that these stories were just depressing, but I thought they really humanized the story and made it much more than a story of one family. Oddly though I think I would have liked more of those snap shot stories as there were so many victims and most were unknown.
This is a story of the haves vs the have-nots in a small town in the Depression. The dance hall that explodes is one place where everyone was able to be despite their position in town and so victims came from all classes, but those in power in the town were able to move on in a way the powerless were not. The gypsies, the family of the St. Louis mobster were all sent out of town, while the others involved in the explosion lived on relatively undisturbed which was disturbing as an observer. I was afraid reading this that there would be no definitive story of what happened, so I was glad that Woodrell did not leave the mystery unsolved. On the other hand, I felt like the story just ended. You know what happened, but that’s it. I wanted some resolution in the end, maybe the word to spread, I don’t quite know. I guess I will have to be satisfied that there was an ending at least!