The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
This is another historical retelling, about a dance hall explosion, and it’s impact throughout generations. Now, I’ve always said I’m a sucker for something being placed in time and showing the ripple effects. But for me, this latest novel was akin to Woe to Live On. It’s still Woodrell, but it’s lacking that outlaw verve that gets me. I guess I prefer to read about likable criminals rather than reading about criminals who are assholes from the getgo.
The story doesn’t unfold so much as come at you like someone firing a deck of 52 Pickup in your face. It’s told disjointed, from the perspective of Alek, who is the grandson of the titular maid, Alma. It talks about the events around the explosion, and then the subsequent history of the people involved. It’s not a boring tale, and it’s not necessarily boring. It’s just very fractured, and the veins chosen for passage of the story seem tangential. If this was just Alma recounting the story to her grandson, and not the story of Alma’s sons and Alma’s ultimate fate, and the fate of some of the folks in the explosion, and the fate of the figures in the aftermath, and the fate of the statue built to commemorate the victims of the explosion, it might have worked better for me. As it stands, it’s ten pounds of story packed into a five pound bag.
There’s a couple haunting vignettes peppered throughout, recounting the lives of the people who were destroyed in the blast and what brought them to the dance hall that night. I also think if the book consisted of nothing but these, it might have been a better read.
As it stands, the Maid’s version kind of reads as a southern fried Bronte: the young brash girl who gets swept up by a richer married man, and then the staid maid who chastises him for it. Also, the story of Alma’s family isn’t really all that interesting to me. So that this is the lynchpin on which the rest of the story gets hung, it’s less enjoyable for me. As I said, I guess rather than being a fan of Daniel Woodrell, I’m a fan of his criminal stories. They sing to me. This is a damn fine book, but not as knockout breathless gutpunch as the rest of his work.