The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
(Little, Brown and Company, 2013, 164 pages)
In The Maid’s Version, Daniel Woodrell combines fascinating character sketches of a variety of Midwestern personalities with a gripping mystery. The family history of the Dunahew’s and the lives of a series of characters in the Missouri town of West Table are examined and defined by the explosion at a local dance hall which leaves forty two people dead and many scarred. As Woodrell depicts the lives of people who populate the town and who are affected by the tragedy, we are introduced to a host of odd, common, and suspicious characters. The more we learn about the explosion, the more the mystery surrounding it looks like a cover-up.
Woodrell’s style is heavy on descriptive passages and local dialects. He crafts his descriptions and dialogue with a skill that adds a real weight to the story. The tragedy of the explosion and the urgency that some (though not all) fell in seeking an answer are made all the more palpable because of the oddly real characters that Woodrell draws and the relatable close-knit Midwestern town that he describes. This book is well constructed and it slowly crescendos to a powerful conclusion.
I really enjoyed Woodrell’s earlier novel, Winter’s Bone. The Maid’s Version has a similar “country noir” quality, and both novels feature underestimated female “detectives.” Also, both deal with the way that justice is inequitably distributed between rich and poor. While I ultimately found Winter’s Bone to be the more powerful of the two, The Maid’s Version is written just as skillfully.