The Maid’s Version is a tightly written novel, and at 164 pages, more novella than novel. The cover reveals that Daniel Woodrell also wrote Winter’s Bone. (I didn’t know the film was based upon a novel). After reading this book, I intend to read Winter’s Bone and anything else I can find in the library. Woodrell is a storyteller that economically uses words to the best effect.
The story starts in 1965, the narrator is staying with Alma, his grandmother and the maid of the title. The story takes place in the small town of West Table, Missouri. Alma is the grandma you don’t want to visit for more than an afternoon. She’s cold, lives in a single room and is perhaps a bit “touched.” Folks in town attribute her mental state to an explosion and fire that killed forty-two people in 1929, one of whom was her sister Ruth McGee. The novel goes back and forth in time ostensibly to solve the crime, but also providing vignettes about some of the victims and residents of the town.
Woodrell’s paints portraits of the characters in the book with language true to the Ozarks. He describes the result of a life of poverty: “She lived scared and angry, a life full of permanent grievances, sharp animosities and cold memories for all who’d every crossed us, any of us, ever. Alma DeGeer Dunahew, with her pinched, hostile nature, her dark obsessions and primal need for revenge, was the big red heart of our family, the true heart, the one we keep secret and that sustains us.” He introduces another character in this way: “Mr. Isaiah Willard was a jackleg preacher, a man of hard convictions walked up from Little Rock after he’d walked from several places before that. His preaching was not deeply rooted in the styling of any single church and had a rough angry tone, accusatory subject matter, sparks and ash flying from his mouth.” I could see and hear these characters as if I was watching a film.