Sceptre, £17.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Book review: The Maid's Version, By Daniel Woodrell
Gothic fiction meets the folkloric in this tender women's tale
Friday 13 September 2013
Daniel Woodrell's first novel since his celebrated Winter's Bone blends the folkloric with Southern gothic, historical recapitulation with fictional investigative journalism, all suffused in his matchless tenderness of telling. The many-angled perspective of The Maid's Version keeps homing to womenfolk, who, in a brutal and stinted Ozark small-town world, maintain their integrity through the decades, weird and crazy though they may appear, by refusing to enlist amongst "the surrendered".
"Rapunzel, let down your hair!" The narrator's grandmother, Alma DeGeer Dunahew, the maid of the title, vowed never to cut her hair when her beloved sister was murdered – and she never does. Her hair drags the floor and has to be coiled round her arm when she walks. Alma hoards the truth about the mass murder that killed good-time girl, Ruby. Her witchy, "hallowed" hair is her testament, a lifeline sustained by grief and grievance. She lets it down to her grandson, the narrator.
In 1929, 42 dancers died in an explosion at the Arbor Dance Hall, "murdered midstep". Who caused the explosion and why? The narrative quest of The Maid's Version is pursued by zigzag routes. Woodrell is concerned with pauperdom, inveterate dynastic feud, with the sorrows and endurance of labouring women.
The lovable character of Ree Dolly, fending for her brothers in a world of cold paucity, centred Winter's Bone. The Maid's Version, like the explosion it investigates, is the story of a 20th-century community, told in snatches and scraps, a medley of skewed report, grounded in bizarre hearsay, false testimony, town legend and blind witness.
I know nothing of Ozark dialect save what Woodrell has taught me – and yet I have the sense of having heard its authentic tropes and rhythms. In The Maid's Version, the oral and the poetic tangle and splice. Alma and Ruby are illiterate: the grandson's narration raises their tongue to occasional elegiac beauty. Woodrell's characteristic devices - zeugma, paradox, ellipsis, alliteration - are far more than decorative. He captures the inaudible maids' talk on a bench where they would sit "telling the truth in whispers".
Whodunnit? The answer is low-key and perhaps less crucial than the outlandish "winged loneliness" of the voices the narrator echoes.
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Arts & Ents blogs
Dennis Hopper's lost sixties photo album found
What are the best first lines in fiction?
Russell Crowe's Noah banned in three Arab countries before worldwide premiere
Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks
Call The Midwife: Jessica Raine leaves in series three finale
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 2 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 3 North Korea elections: Kim Jong-un wins 100% of the vote
- 4 Steve Irwin’s final words: Cameraman present at death opens up about deadly stingray attack for the first time
- 5 Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks