The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell


The Maid’s Version, reviewed by Tony’s Book World, is described by the author as “country noir.” It was awfully dark and the tone did remind me of Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Woodrell also wrote Winter’s Bone, which I understand has been made into a good film.

The maid is Alma whom we hear about from her grandson who is sent to stay with her in the Ozarks in Missouri when he is 12 for the summer, perhaps so he can learn about grinding poverty. The story is Alma’s version of the terrible explosion that occurred on the ground floor of a dance hall building that killed 42 in 1929, Alma’s sister among them.  The guilty parties are revealed to Alek, along with the background on the various characters.

The language is stilted in that formal old fashioned way that tells you that it’s not about the story, it’s about the telling. Here’s a nice little snippet:

Trains have haunted the nights in West Table [Missouri] since 1883 and disrupt sleep and taunt those awakened. The trains beating past toward the fabled beyond, the sound of each wheel thump singing, “You’re going nowhere, you’re going nowhere and these wheels are, they are. They are going far from where you lie listening in your smallness and will still lie small at dawn long after they are gone from hearing, rolling on, singing along twin rails over the next hill and down and up over the next onward to those milk and honey environs where motion pictures happen for real and history is made and large dashing lives you won’t lead or even witness are lived.

The reader, Brian Troxell, was especially good at conveying the poetic rendering of the story.

Along with Ruby, Alma’s wild sister, we get to know the banker and upstanding citizen who disasterously falls in love with Ruby, Alma’s son John Paul who is left on his own at age 10 and was taken in by a kindly Russian couple after they caught him stealing from their garden in the night, and of course we get to know Alma. The story meanders around the time frame, from the explosion, back to the various unfortunate marriage choices and forward to John Paul’s time in the army during and after World War II.

Daniel Woodrell, The Maid’s Version, Little, Brown and Company, 2013, 176 pages (I listened to the audiobook version).

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