By Daniel Woodrell
Little, Brown & Company, $25.00, 164 pages
Daniel Woodrell’s sentences unfurl along the sprawling mountains and valleys of small Missouri town and across the decades that The Maid’s Version spans. Grandparents often don’t give personal accounts in a clear, linear fashion but instead in rambling, disjointed segments that have to be carefully stitched together in a congruent narrative, and Alek does this as he gathers the old woman’s recollections of the events leading up to and following the explosion of the Arbor Dance Hall in 1929.
“Storm clouds were scored by bright lightning, and thunder boomed. Her dress was flapping, her eyes narrowed and distant, and she cunningly chose that raging moment to begin telling me her personal account of the Arbor Dance Hall explosion of 1929, how forty-two dancers from this small corner of the Missouri Ozarks had perished in an instant, waltzing couples murdered midstep, blown toward the clouds in a pink mist chased by towering flames, and why it happened.”
This tragedy is too large to be contained within one family and even seemingly unrelated tales hold new significance when bound together as a whole, showing how our actions affect others in ways unimaginable when conceived. The mastery of this novel is not just the social commentary, the vividness of the characters or the minimalistic approach, but in the ability to find poetry not only within the ugliest of human emotions, such as jealousy and revenge, but within the gritty, grotesque struggle of everyday life in hopeless, uneducated poverty.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins