Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it is the end of January….but this is a stand out book from December and it has been waiting patiently to be written about. (The Library has not been as patient — I had a few dollars to pay in fines!)
The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell.
Winter’s Bone, another of Woodrell’s, is one of my favourite books. The Maid’s Version doesn’t quite reach that height, but it comes close. The story centres around an explosion in a dance hall in a small Missouri town in 1929. 42 people were killed. No one was ever brought to account for the crime, but Alma Dunahew, who lost her sister in the explosion, does know the secrets that lead to it. Many years later she tells her grandson.
Like any good story, the plot outline is only the beginning, and can never tell all that needs to be told. The story moves back and forth, between past and present. I enjoy the challenge of books that move without notice into different times and different characters. This book had an extra challenge — chapters about the lives of some who died in the blast. They would appear and then not be heard of again.
Woodrell’s writing is superb, forcing me to read much slower than I usually do, to enjoy the way he can capture so much in one sentence.
Ruby DeGeer 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.
[Buster] ……..struggled with a dual matrimony, having become betrothed to the bottle also, a love he encountered early and fell for straightaway.
Or his wonderful descriptions that meld perfectly with the rest of the story.
Alma was of a height that earned no description save “regular”, sturdy in her legs and chest, and her hair was an ordinary who-gives-a-hoot brown, with finger waves above the ears that always collapsed into messy curls as the day went along.
This quote, like much of his writing, reminds me of Cormack McCarthy:
The trains beating past toward the fabled beyond, the sound of each wheel-thump singing, You’re going nowhere, you’re going nowhere, and these wheels are, they are, they are going far from where you lie listening in your smallness and will still lie small at dawn after they are gone from hearing, rolling on singing long twin rails over the next hill and down and up over the next onward to those milk -and-honey environs where motion pictures happen for real and history is made and large dashing lives you won’t lead or even witness are lived.
Move Daniel Woodrell up to the top of your reading list — and let me know what you think.