The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell – Country Noir is Alive and Well

The Maid’s Version’ by Daniel Woodrell  (2013) – 164 pages

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At the center of “The Maid’s Version” is a terrifying explosion and fire at the Arbor Dance Hall in 1929 which claimed 42 lives and devastated the small town in Missouri where it happened.  A lot of the folks in the Ozark town near this dance hall believe this explosion was a deliberate act.  They think that only dynamite could have caused this sudden explosion.  The novel is a mystery whodunit forty years later as to who was responsible for this act.  One of the people who died in the fire is the free spirited sister, Ruby, of the maid, Alma, of the title.

 “Ruby didn’t mind breaking hearts, but she liked them to shatter coolly, with no ugly scenes of departure where an arm got twisted behind her back by a crying man, or her many failings and damp habits were made specific in words shouted out an open window.” 

 The above is a good example of Daniel Woodrell’s writing.  It does not always take a straight line to its main point, but the additional words add local color and detail to the sentiment.   For quite a few of the sentences with their dangling clauses, I wondered if they hanged together grammatically.  However the sentences contributed to the overall mood of the story which was lively and evocative, and that’s all that counts.  Many novels about small town life are written today in a style that is so spare and sparse, that it is a pleasure to read something that is more expressive

I would have liked to have seen the characters in this novel developed more fully.  What we get of the characters is good.  I suppose due to the constraints of the mystery genre, the novel stays on the surface with many characters rather than going into any depth with just a few.  Reading ‘The Maid’s Version’ was entirely a pleasant experience.  I just don’t think it will leave any lasting imprint.    I do like the idea of solving a mystery from the past like this dance hall explosion.

Daniel Woodrell calls this type of novel ‘country noir’ and this novel certainly has its noir-ish elements starting with the dark crime at its center.    It also could fall under the Southern Gothic umbrella with its assortment of rural and small-town characters trying to figure out what happened.  Woodrell is probably best known for the novel “Winter’s Bone” which was made into an award-winning movie.

“The Maid’s Version” is well worth reading, but this is one of the few times I wish there had been more to the novel.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. I adored Winter’s Bone and The Death of Sweet Mister, so I bought this a couple of weeks ago. I’m glad it’s at least ‘a pleasant experience’.

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  2. Sounds fascinating, and I loved the quote. Obama read something by Woodrell on summer vacation a few years ago, I read.

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    • Hi Kat,
      If this Woodrell is good enough for the President, it certainly is good enough for me. We’ve lost a few famous authors recently, and Daniel Woodrell is one of those taking their place.

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  3. It sounds fun, and there’s a place for fun in any reading list.

    “her many failings and damp habits” is a wonderful phrase. I don’t know quite what it means, but it’s terribly evocative still.

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    • Hi Max,
      Yes, this is a fun little book. I usually prefer a book being too short rather than too long, but I have read ‘War and Peace’, ‘Anna Karenina’ ‘Ulysees’, and ‘The Man Without Qualities’ and found them all to be just the right length. It depends on what’s in the book.

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