With his latest novel The Maid’s Version, Missouri writer Daniel Woodrell digs into the rich history of the Ozarks to create a slim masterpiece of literary fiction. Based on a real historical event, the book centers on the Arbor Dance Hall explosion of 1929, and the effect the unsolved crime had on succeeding generations.
Did you have any classical models or inspirations in mind when you wrote the book? Some elements seem almost Shakespearean, and the character Alma has a mythic aura about her.
A couple of reviewers have said that. My wife said that, too. I guess I am unconscious sometimes, writing away by instinct and some of these tropes and dramatic symmetries are built in by now, so I don’t really notice them. I love Shakespeare, and the Greeks, learned a lot studying them at one time.
Alma DeGeer is one of your finest creations, tell us a little more about her?
She has been roughed up by life quite a bit, takes offense, holds grudges, but is true to her family and beliefs. She works hard, expects little, but is ferocious if that little is threatened.
Alek is sent to Alma as an act of reconciliation, and is also the one to receive her story and to keep it alive. Is “the story” itself the heart of the novel?
Alma needed to feel that at least one person would know her story and be in a position to carry it forth. The novel wheels about narratively, here to there, and knowledge of the people and events is delivered more or less as Alek would have learned them. To me, the interior story of the Dunahews is the “big red heart” of the novel.
The language is rich, poetic and lively as always. How did you settle on the tone for this particular book? Alma’s voice really provides a bridge to an earlier era. Does the language in the Ozarks still retain strong remnants of its past flavor, or is it losing it?
I think all regions have had their peculiarities of speech rounded off by television, radio, and people travel so much more now. Alma’s voice oozes from her personality. This is a book in which I wanted a couple of older touches. When I was a kid, I did not call adults “Joe” or say “How’s it goin’, Sally?” I’d use Mr and Mrs, and so I kept that. Also, I didn’t use much cussing (that’s a first for me) because somehow it didn’t seem tuned to the tragedy and the voice. The voice is stoic and unflinching, but well mannered.
There’s a strong tension between the gentry and the working folks. Have the family dynasties in the area evolved into multi-national corporations these days?
I know some of the old families still exist here, at least in part, and a few of the families that thrived in 1929 still thrive today. We wish multi-national jobs and money would come to town.