Ozarks novel chucks red­neck stereo­types

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

among oth­ers, her sis­ter, Ruby.

This fire has set its stamp on the town’s his­tory ever since. She passes the story on to her fas­ci­nated grand­son, Alek, who re­lates the story about the fate­ful year of the blaze. The main story is of Alma, maid to the rich­est fam­ily in town, the Glen­crosses, and Ruby. Alma is as solid, dis­creet and roughly lov­ing as Ruby is care­less and self-cen­tred. Ruby be­gins an af­fair with the Glen­cross fam­ily’s am­bi­tious and in­in­tel­li­gent head, Arthur.

Though the af­fair pri­vately doesn’t bother Arthur’s dis­tant wife, pub­lic moral­ity must be served. The com­pli­ca­tion reaches a cri­sis when Alma’s un­re­li­able hus­band is killed in an ac­ci­dent in which he was driv­ing Ruby and Arthur to an assig­na­tion.

Glen­cross in­sists on leav­ing the body, wwhich leads Ruby — show­ing some mmoral grit — to leave Arthur, real­iz­ing, as she says, you can’t love a man like that.

Later, Arthur has his own epiphany when he is stabbed and wounded by Alma’s old­est son, James, un­der­stand­ing, that James was show­ing one could mur­der for love and how bound to­gether he and Ruby’s fam­ily were.

Weav­ing through this pow­er­fully ren­dered tale are other char­ac­ters, some of whom might be sus­pects in the fire, in­clud­ing the big-city gang­sters who kill a re­luc­tant lo­cal bad guy, the pow­er­less gyp­sies, and the cru­sad­ing sin-ob­sessed lo­cal pas­tor, as well as some who die in the fire.

Few nov­el­ists are as di­rect and vis­ceral as Woodrell in re­lat­ing the deep sense of a small com­mu­nity, which though di­vided by class, re­mains glued to­gether.

The mys­tery’s so­lu­tion isn’t a sur­prise, but a cul­mi­na­tion of the idea that love, when it takes hold, might lead to any­thing, even un­wanted tragedy. The maid’s ver­sion is, fi­nally, her act of love to her of­tendis­dained sis­ter.

Woodrell is re­lent­less in his nar­ra­tive. He bowls you over, and here is where a small prob­lem arises. Woodrell has lan­guage at his com­mand, but of­ten it just over­flows and we feel some­thing is miss­ing when we need it most.

For ex­am­ple, Alma: though the story ul­ti­mately rests with her, she isn’t the most in­ter­est­ing of char­ac­ters. We sense she should be, the reader wants that, but some­thing is miss­ing.

The Maid’s Ver­sion is short at 164 pages, but it could be longer, and still, given Woodrell’s abil­i­ties, seem short, and per­haps even richer. Time is on this writer’s side, he should take it.

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