It has been seven long years since Daniel Woodrell gave us a novel. Seven. Loooong. Years. In that time Woodrell’s star has undoubtedly risen, with a high profile movie having been made out of Winter’s Bone and beautiful reissues of his work coming out in the wake of said film. In other words, the world (and most importantly, the Nerd himself) has been waiting to see what Woodrell would give us next. Turns out the end product is the epic yet intimate The Maid’s Version, a mystery that spans many decades and includes a massive cast of characters despite being only 164 pages long.
The maid in question is Alma DeGeer Dunahew, a West Table, Missouri mother of three who slaves away for a respected local banker’s family. When the dance hall mysteriously explodes in 1929 and kills dozens including her good-time gal sister Ruby, Alma thinks she knows what caused it, yet her views cost her a relationship with her family, the community and seemingly her sanity. But when Alma’s grandson spends a summer with her in the early sixties, he gets an earful from his crazy ol’ Granny that eventually leads him to tell this twisty tale years later.
The novel moves forward and backward in time constantly and gives us insight into numerous characters, from the local sheriff at the time of the explosion to our narrator Alek near the end of the twentieth century. We get a rundown of the family histories of many characters and the history of West Table in general, and no theory on what happened that awful night is too crazy to be presented, no matter how incidental the theorist is to what we might think of as the central story.
Yet none of this talk of the novel’s expansiveness or structural complexity is intended to give you the impression that The Maid’s Version is dense or anything less than an intimate story thrillingly told. Woodrell’s prose is as wonderful as ever, his ability to be somehow direct and poetic at the same time unparalleled by any other writer working today. The novel is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, sad and oddly comforting, harsh and beautiful. Basically, it’s a Daniel Woodrell novel, and that’s all I should really have to say to get you to pick this up.