THE MAID’S VERSION by Daniel Woodrell

Book Quote:

“She frightened me at every dawn the summer I stayed with her. She’d sit on the edge of her bed, long hair down, down to the floor and shaking as she brushed and brushed, shadows ebbing from the room and early light flowing in through both windows. Her hair was as long as her story and she couldn’t walk when her hair was not woven into dense braids and pinned around and atop her head. Otherwise her hair dragged the floor like the train of a medieval gown and she had to gather it into a sheaf and coil it about her forearm several times to walk the floor without stepping on herself. She’d been born a farm girl, then served as a maid for half a century, so she couldn’t sleep past dawn to win a bet…”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (DEC 21, 2013)

The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell is a small book but reads like a tome, with such literate and beautiful imagery that I was enthralled. The book centers around the mystery of the explosion at Arbor Dance Hall in 1929. The explosion killed 42 people, many unrecognizable in death with their bodies broken up or burned beyond recognition. Alma Dunahew lost her sister Ruby in the explosion and for years has been trying to discover the answer to what happened. Those years have been hard on her with several of them spent at the Work Farm in West Table, Missouri, due to her psychic breakdown caused by rage and grief. Many of the town’s most wealthy citizens want to put the truth of the explosion to the side and no one has ever been apprehended for the crime. They look at Alma’s ramblings about the explosion as words from a crazy person. The magnitude of the explosion was enormous.

“Just as full darkness fell those happy sounds heard in the surviving house suddenly became a nightmare chorus of pleas, cries of terror, screams as the flames neared crackling and bricks returned tumbling from the heavens and stout beams crushed those souls knocked to the ground. Walls shook and shuddered for a mile around and the boom was heard faintly in the next county south and painfully by everyone in the town limits.”

One summer in 1965, Alma’s young grandson Alec comes to visit her. It is to him that she spills the story of the dance hall and her theory about what happened that night. Going back and forth in time, the novel gives the reader vignettes about those who were killed in the dance hall explosion along with the story of Ruby, Alma’s sister. Ruby was a great flirt and what was called in those days a loose woman. She would love them and leave them until she found a real love with the banker, Arthur Glencross. Glencross was married and Alma worked as a maid for the Glencross family. She worked very hard to hide Arthur’s affair from his wife Corrine by carefully washing his clothing to get out smells and stains that would serve as evidence of his affair with Ruby. After Ruby’s death, Alma hated Arthur and this was evident in her actions.

Was Arthur responsible for the explosion? Or, could it have been the preacher Isaiah Willard who spoke of death and damnation to those who danced? He believed that “the easiest portals to the soul through which demons might enter was that opened by dancing feet. Evil music, evil feet, salacious sliding and the disgusting embraces dancing excused provided an avenue of damnation that could readily be seen and blockaded” He was heard to say of the Arbor Dance Hall during that summer, “I’ll blow this place to Kingdom soon and drop those sinners into the boiling patch – see how they dance then.” What about the hobos hanging around town? Those passing through with bad intentions? Someone with a grudge against one of the dancers? Who was it? Alma thinks she knows and tells her story to Alec.

Of the forty-two killed in the explosion, only twenty-eight were whole enough so that graves could be made for them. Most of them were not identified. The rest were parts buried in a pit. Alma’s grief was such that she “touched all twenty-eight and kissed them each, kneeling to kiss the fresh black paint between her spread aching fingers, said the same words to accompany every kiss because there was no way to know which box of wood held Ruby, or if she rested in only one, had not been separated into parts by crushing or flames and interred in two or three, so she treated every box as though her sister was inside in parts or whole and cried to the last.”

Woodrell’s style of writing is unique, sounding like I’d imagine the tenor of speech spoken in the Ozarks. At times it’s a difficult book because of the writing style and the subject matter. It is, however, stunning and has left me with a deep and abiding appreciation for this author’s work. I thank him for sharing his talent and vision with readers.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 117 readers
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company (September 3, 2013)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Daniell Woodrell
EXTRAS: Interview  and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


*The Bayou Trilogy (April 2011)

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December 21, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Noir, US South

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