Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review: The Maid's Version

The Maid's Version
By Daniel Woodrell
Little, Brown, and Company September 2013
164 pages
From the library

The Maid's Version

In 1929, the town of West Table, Missouri is literally rocked when a popular dance hall explodes. No one is ever arrested for the crime, but there are many suspects. Was it a mobster looking to silence someone forever? Did the band of gypsies wandering through town have something to do with it? Or was it the local minister who thought the dance hall was a den of sin? Alma DeGeer Dunahew thinks she knows who is responsible. Her free spirited sister Ruby was having an affair with a married man and Alma thinks that relationship led to the death of every person in that dance hall, including Ruby.

The Maid's Version is presented as a sort of mystery, but it's more of a case study of small town life. This short book features small chapters, each of which focus on different citizens of the town. This has two effects - it really gives the readers a tapestry of the many people living in a small town, but it can also be quite jarring to have to place a new person each time you begin a chapter. Alma is getting old and finally gives her grandson permission to reveal what she believes happened on that fateful day. Her confession bring family secrets to life, but it also brings closure to a family that was devastated by the explosion and its aftermath. 

This book is one that should be read in a straight shot because it makes it easier to keep track of the many characters and their connections. Mr. Woodrell really manages to capture the unhurried feeling of a small Missouri town in his characters, in his pacing, and with his language. This is not a mystery with any urgency. Instead, we sit alongside an elderly relative who will eventually get to her point...but she has a lot to tell you first.

For a story that is finally going to clear up a mystery, the actual reveal seemed sort of haphazard to me. Part of this has to do with the abundance of characters. It's difficult to feel as if you really know or care about any of these people, including Alma, Ruby, and the person responsible for the explosion. While many readers may guess who the culprit is, the events leading up to the explosion felt random. It almost seems as if Woodrell picked plot devices out of a hat. 

The Maid's Version is a good pick for readers who like certain types of stories - multiple points of view, a mystery that has been obscured for years, and a look into the eccentricities and secrets of small town residents. For a short book, it can be a slow read as the reader must untangle the webs of Woodrell's prose, the character's relationships, and the many threads of this mystery. 

2 comments:

  1. I feel like I was expecting a little more out of the mystery with this one, too. I think Woodrell's prose was much stronger than the actual coming together of the plot, which I don't mind, it just wasn't what I went in expecting to read.

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    1. Marketing does matter and I've found myself disappointed lately by a few books where I was expecting one thing and found another.

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