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Alma DeGeer Dunahew, the mother of three young boys, works as the maid for a prominent citizen and his family in West Table, Missouri. Her husband is mostly absent, and, in 1929, her scandalous, beloved younger sister is one of the 42 killed in an explosion at the local dance hall. Who is to blame? Mobsters from St. Louis? The embittered local gypsies? The preacher who railed against the loose morals of the waltzing couples? Or could it have been a colossal accident?
Alma thinks she knows the answer - and that its roots lie in a dangerous love affair. Her dogged pursuit of justice makes her an outcast and causes a long-standing rift with her own son. By telling her story to her grandson, she finally gains some solace - and peace for her sister. He is advised to "Tell it. Go on and tell it" - tell the story of his family's struggles, suspicions, secrets, and triumphs.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Janice on 09-06-13
What really happened
I liked this book. A lot. But it’s a challenge to explain why because there were things about it that were hard to like. The writing is outstanding. Woodrell uses economy and eloquence in a narrative filled with secrets, resentment, and sometimes, when least expected, dry dark humor. (His description of the “accidental” demise of a well hated citizen is priceless.) He has written characters vividly without letting us really get to know any of them well. It’s this arm’s length distance that makes it hard to become fully immersed in the story. But looking back I suspect that was the author’s intention. Alma, telling her version of the story, is herself hard to get close to – prickly, resentful, suspicious, and unyielding. Her distance from those she is describing keeps us at that same distance.
Alternating first person narration through Alma and her grandson, we learn from Alma’s memory what lead up to and followed the fire that killed 42 people, including her wayward but beloved sister. No one is ever called to account, and Alma's need for justice solidifies to a hard stone of anger towards those in the small town who are content to just let it go, ostracizing the troublemakers who refuse to do so. The author often switches to third person voice to relay biographical vignettes of other fire victims, and of characters whose roles remain unclear until the end when all the pieces are connected.
These narrative switchbacks caused a bit of auditory whiplash, making me hit the 30 second back-up many times when normal attention to traffic distracted me just enough to miss who was speaking and who was being spoken of. The print version would have made it easy see when a new narrative section was starting - it was not so clear just by listening. I have reluctantly dropped a star from the overall experience because those frequent back-ups took me out of the story just a little too often. But I can also happily give 5 stars to the story for the astounding writing quality and a tale that has stuck with me for the two days since I finished it. This may be a good Audible/Kindle combination for members who use both.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
By Mel on 09-09-13
I'm a fan of Woodrell's work; Winter's Bone is one of the best books I've read. His writing captures a depth of character that makes them hard to leave on the page, and he has an eye for those odd but gritty details that make his stories so hard-edged and memorable. Reading his work, I am often reminded of one of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy. Both of them have a unique way of using words that makes the language seem a little more vivid and crisp, the situations a little more unpredictable and precarious. The Maid's Version is no exception, and condenses a big story into a little time losing none of the power.
I'll offer this advice of what not to do reading this short tale...stop/start several times. The story is a flowing tale shared by Alma to her grandson; there isn't a lot of character development or set up, so the flow is really important for the overall impact. It might just have been me...but some things just don't lend themselves to stopping and starting. I was hooked and moving along with baited breath, but once I had to stop, it was hard to get back in step with the same fluid intensity. The writing was as always, a treat, but Woodrell deserves better and so do readers. If this was a story that interested me as much as the writing fed me -- I'd go into seclusion and start again, but admit that even with the interruptions and the high praise the book is getting, I don't think it did, in my case. My advice would be to commit to the 4 hours for the full listening enjoyment and judge for yourself.
15 of 17 people found this review helpful