I’ve blogged about Daniel Woodrell twice before reading a book of his. I remarked in 2006 that his works seemed to serve the underbelly as the main course; then, I posted a note about an appearance of his in St. Louis when a high school near-acquaintance contacted me to promote it. Remember, gentle reader, back in the old days, I was in the top thousand blogs in the country, and my mention was worth something. Well, maybe not, and certainly not by 2006. But still.
Now, almost a decade later, I live in the Ozarks, Woodrell’s books have been made into Oscar-worthy films, and I had a small Christmas gift card that turned into a large purchase at Barnes and Noble, including this book. Note for posterity’s sake that this was Christmas 2013, and it only took me a couple of months to read the book. That means something, if only that I have a weird sense of what to read next.
At any rate, this piece is literary fiction, something I’ve avoided of late. Well, not avoided; when it comes time to read, I’ve favored popcorn style fiction in a genre over Literature, which for the most part means classical literature. But, as I often am when I bother to read a good piece of literary fiction or classic literature, I’m taken aback by how engrossing and engaging it is.
This book centers on an actual event, a dance hall explosion in 1928. It has a more modern frame story, wherein a grandson gleans the story from his grandmother, the sister of a victim of the explosion. The story itself is told in flashback, where the sister of the grandmother has a fling with a rich man for whom the grandmother works (hence, her story is the maid’s version).
The book features the modern jump-cut scenes dealing with the maid, her grandson and children and how they fared, the love affair, the rich man who had then lost the daughter, a St. Louis gang member on the run/hiding out but discovered, and a bunch of characters who have chapters because they were affected by the explosion. Unfortunately, this last bit serves mostly as padding–I know, in creative writing classes, we call these “nice little moments,” but they’re a bit short and don’t move the story along. I guess that’s color that you get in literary fiction that you don’t get in pulp paperbacks.
It’s an engaging book, and the writing is florid without being Victorian wallpaper overwhelming the plot and characters. I enjoyed it. I’ll probably pick up Winter’s Bone the next time I see it at a book sale.
Books mentioned in this review: