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The Maid's Version: A Novel Hardcover – September 3, 2013

3.5 out of 5 stars 248 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013 (also a Big Fall Books Preview 2013 selection): From the opening line--"She frightened me at every dawn that summer..."--Daniel Woodrell sets a spooky tone in his ninth novel (his first since Winter's Bone). Based on a true story, this slim volume reimagines the horrific night when dozens were killed in a mysterious explosion at an Ozarks dance hall, the night "all hell came callin'." Years later, in the summer of 1965, our narrator's grandmother tells him her version of that night’s events and, eventually, the boy’s father encourages him, "Go on and tell it." The result is a story of hard times and hard people, of secrets, betrayals, and revenge. The murky, resilient truth of that night ripples across the family’s future, unfolding on the page like a mash-up of Faulker, Flannery O'Connor, Johnny Cash, and the bible. This is an entirely original, brutal, and darkly elegant book, and Woodrell is a storyteller at the top of his game. --Neal Thompson

From Booklist

In his first novel in seven years, Woodrell (Winter’s Bone, 2006) returns to the Ozarks to tell the story of a catastrophe based on a real-life occurrence. Alek Dunahew is sent to live with his grandmother, the former housemaid Alma DeGeer Dunahew. Haunted by the death of her sister, Ruby, in the explosion of the Arbor Dance Hall in 1928, Alma’s views of the cause of the disaster created a schism between her and one of her sons. But Alek is curious and listens carefully, tucking away Alma’s stories of her drunken husband, her wild sister, and her affair with Alma’s employer and the mysterious whisperings about mobsters and shootings. Told in meandering flashbacks with a lyrical cadence, the story is gripping and heartrending at the same time. Interspersed with Alma’s memories are vignettes of some of the victims of the explosion and how they happened to be at the dance hall on that particular night. With this book, Woodrell confirms his place among the literary masters. --Elizabeth Dickie

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316205850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316205856
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (248 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

This amazing little book has as its centerpiece the mystery surrounding an explosion at a small-town Missouri dance hall back in 1929. Forty-two people were killed and many more injured. One of those killed was a young woman named Ruby, the beloved younger sister of one of the book's main characters, Alma Dunahew. We know that Ruby was having affairs with married men and we know that the town had problems with mobsters, gypsies and even a vengeful preacher who warned against dancing and partying. What we don't know until the end is just who was really to blame.

When the book first starts out we are introduced to Alma from the viewpoint of her 12 year old grandson who is briefly staying with her. From the opening line we see Alma brushing her floor-length grey/white hair and her grandson is a little apprehensive of her. We find out that Alma has had an incredibly difficult life and that she had been estranged for a while from her own son's life. The reasons for that become clear as we read on.

The story jumps around and is told from the viewpoints of many different characters at different points in time. The relevance of some of these characters can become clear at the end of their little chapter but often we don't really understand their importance until later on. For example we may meet someone in one vignette and come to briefly know them and then find out they were killed at the dance hall; and in that way we truly feel the extent of the tragedy and loss. Many of the characters we meet are central to the mystery of what happened and to our understanding of how the characters evolved into the people they are. Their histories and backstories are often brutal and heartbreaking.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Certain authors have a language and a style all their own. I don't mean an invented language, like Tolkien, Pratchett, or Rowling, but rather a way of capturing language that is unique to them. Daniel Woodrell, who has written books such as Winter's Bone and The Death of Sweet Mister is one of those authors. His ability to capture the language of people in the Ozarks makes his books feel tremendously authentic and even more captivating.

In 1929, the small community of West Table, Missouri was rocked by a fire and explosion in the Arbor Dance Hall, which killed 42 people. As with any tragedy, immediately talk turned to the causes of this disaster and who was responsible. Was it caused by the local gypsies? Mobsters from St. Louis on the hunt for one of their own? The frenzy unleashed by a preacher who lashed out at the immoral behavior of the dancers and partiers? Or was it simply a tragic accident?

Alma DeGeer Dunahew knows what caused the tragedy that killed her flirtatious sister, Ruby. But Alma, who works as a maid for one of West Table's most prominent families, is viewed as crazy by the town citizens, many of whom don't really want to know what happened that night, or are willing to turn a blind eye to the truth if it protects the town from the effects of the Great Depression. Her need to speak the truth leads her to lose her job, her mind, and estranges her from one of her sons, John Paul.

Years later, Alma finally has the opportunity to tell her story from start to finish, to her grandson, Alek.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This lovely book is breathtaking in its unadorned and precise description of a small Ozark town which had been the scene of the Arbor Dance Hall explosion of 1929. Our narrator Alek had been sent to live with his grandmother Alma at the age of 12 in order to reconcile the rift between her and his father. Over that summer, Alek learns the stories of the people in Alma's world that filled her summer forty years ago. He grows to know his grandmother as she is today, and how she was during that summer leading up to the fire. Starting from the first page, he observes a woman of precise habits whose hair is so long she must braid it to keep it off the floor. Their relationship deepens as the summer progresses and Alma talks to him about that terrible night. She has suffered mightily since then, and she had lost her way. For a time, "she was not currently within her skin, and they weren't sure who or what was.". The mystery of the explosion had never been solved, but Alma has her own beliefs on the solution. Her belief is conveyed with some tension that informs the depth of the mystery. As they grow closer, she challenges him to relate what he has learned. I think she half hoped he would intuit the truth as she saw it. Alma is one of my favorite characters in recent history, and she talks to her grandson and during the flashbacks, I came to admire this woman with many dimensions. She has braved the difficult task of seeing within herself, and has born that price of bearing what she sees.

Each person in this book is revealed in short vignettes that interact in a dance that soon appears to have been almost inevitable. Alma had known them all in her role as a servant from a poor family.
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