Woodrell sets out to tell a story about a 1929 dance hall fire that claims the lives of forty-two victims. He does this through snippets of information told by a maid, Alma DeGeer Dunahew, to her grandson.
Set in West Table, Missouri, Woodrell’s descriptions of the place seemed visually sparse. Vignettes such as “The house was a dinky box, on a street of dinky boxes” and “the houses had been built so cheek-by-jowl that in warm weather we could hear conversations, snores, sometimes farts or lovemaking inside houses in two directions,” helped me to believe Woodrell aimed to give a feel of a place, rather than an optical view of it.
That said, Woodrell is a gifted poet, but I did find the chapters rather disjointed and the characters, while fleshed out, were distant from the reader. I never cared about any of them, and found it difficult to be pulled into the story. Even though Woodrell hinted that foul play caused the fire, by the time it was revealed, it was too late because I had already lost interest. It’s too bad, because the premise was a good one.
2 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013