Woodrell is well-known for his 2006 novel Winter's Bone. (The 2010 movie version featured Jennifer Lawrence in her breakthrough role.) He tackles a real-life event in his latest novel, The Maid's Version. The year was 1928, and an explosion at a dance hall in West Plains, Mo., killed 39 men and women. To this day, the cause of the explosion has not been officially determined; however, "people have always pointed fingers,'' Woodrell said in a phone interview on Dec. 17. In his fictional account, Woodrell introduces the reader to narrator Alek Dunahew, who learns about the event while visiting his grandmother, Alma DeGeer. She was working as a maid when she lost her sister in the explosion.
"My father's mother was a domestic,'' said Woodrell, who is from the region, "and I have to say this is the most autobiographical book I've written.''
What's on your nightstand?
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash, Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry, a collection of stories by Claire Keegan and Bullfighting by Roddy Doyle. I always gravitate towards anything from Ireland. With Irish lit, I love the use of language, but also in many instances the Irish writers are writing about people and circumstances that I can relate to. I'm also reading Manson by Jeff Guinn. I had read another book by Jeff Guinn, Go Down Together, about Bonnie and Clyde. It was the best book on that era that I've ever read.
Did you have any revelations about Manson?
I already knew he had spent a lot of time in state institutions, but when you read about it in more detail, it's not that you develop sympathy, but you do begin to realize that he didn't catch a lot of breaks. You begin to see how a monster was made, for sure.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer