Daniel Woodrell’s short story is complex but worth the effort

04/04/2014 2:38 PM

04/04/2014 2:53 PM

Daniel Woodrell’s latest compact novel was deemed “a practically perfect” book by a group of readers gathered recently at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

“The Maid’s Version” is Woodrell’s most recent book set in the Missouri Ozarks. Alma, an elderly woman, is telling her grandson the story of a tragic dance hall explosion that killed 42, including Alma’s beloved sister. No one knows who or what set the blast, but more than 35 years later, Alma is ready to tell her version of events leading up to the fire.

While this is a short book, about 170 pages, “it’s certainly not speedy,” said Ruth Channels of Odessa, Mo.

“I had to work at reading every single word,” Channels said. “This is not a fast-paced book. But it’s remarkable how the flow and pattern of the language reflect the vernacular of the time, place and characters.

“The writing style reflects the complex story line,” she said. “The first time through it was difficult, but the second time I read it, the story flowed, and it was easier to fall into the lives and stories of the characters.”

Janet Rossbach of Shawnee also read the book twice.

“We get the characters’ stories in pieces,” Rossbach said. “This isn’t a linear story line, and sometimes a reader might not be clear about what happened when. Woodrell’s writing is stylistically complex, and it adds to the situation he writes about.”

One reader compared the book’s story to a jigsaw puzzle.

“I was fascinated with how Woodrell wrote this book,” said Leigh Blackman of Prairie Village. “The story isn’t told in a typical straight line. He drops information in different places. It’s disjointed in a deliberate, interesting way.

“I think Woodrell was using language to paint a picture of the chaos that the residents experienced when the dance hall exploded,” she said. “The writing and the structure reflects the emotional chaos of the residents.”

“I had to stop and read out loud to make sense of the sentences,” said Paula Schwach of Westwood Hills. “Woodrell is making you work for this story, and it’s worth it. He wants his readers to reflect.”

Peggy Brockschmidt of Kansas City put it this way: “It’s because the book is so short and well done. You want to watch all the pieces fit together and see how it unfolds. How nice is that? There are so many overinflated, bloated books out there and this isn’t one of them.”


The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a “book of the moment” selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. If you would like to participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email kaitestover@kc library.org. Watch for the next selection, “S.” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, to be introduced April 12 in FYI.

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