Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: The Funeral Dress

Contemporary novels given the designation "southern fiction" can go either way with me. Too often the stereotypes are overdone and painful. But Susan Gregg Gilmore's The Funeral Dress is one of the good ones. Rather than making Southerners look like hopeless hicks and chicks popping bubblegum, Gilmore gets to the heart of the mountain and its people.

Gilmore says she was inspired to write the novel because of an old photograph of her great aunt and uncle, taken outside the trailer they'd shared for over 50 years. Her novel explores a world in which living in a trailer would be an absolute luxury for a single teen mom, who wants more for her baby than a life raised in a shack without running water.

In so many novels, the young girl/boy is forced to drop out of school and go to work in the factory in order to support the family, and then they end up quitting the factory, going to college, rising above it all, etc. etc.  In this novel, Emmalee at 16 quits school and begin her life in the sewing factory and instantly enters a better life. Her poverty-infested world, which has been one humiliation after another with her abusive, drunken father, becomes a more livable place when she has just a little money and a purpose.

Emmalee becomes the special project of Loretta, who has a reputation as being cold and harsh. But Emmalee softens Loretta, and when Emmalee discovers that she is pregnant, Loretta promises to take her and the baby to her trailer to live. But what's a good southern novel without a tragic event? I'll avoid spoilers and stop here.

I really loved this novel. I am partial to mountain stories, especially ones that neither romanticize nor degrade the folks of Appalachia. This isn't a literary masterpiece, but it's a sweet, hopeful novel with a good dose of melancholy and redemption.

Linked up with Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books


Carin Siegfried said...

I loved this book too! And I met the author shortly after I read it. She is just lovely!

Susanne said...

Thanks for the review. I'm adding it to my TBR list. A couple of my favorite books were about the mountains and poor miners in Colorado by Sandra Dallas: Prayers for Sale and Whiter Than Snow.