For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘women’s friendship

The Funeral Dress, by Susan Gregg Gilmore, Broadway Books, New York, 2013, 356 pp.

Funeral DressA good story with good characters that moves quickly and leaves me feeling good is like eating candy for me. I just keep unwrapping one chapter after another, without counting pages or calories or being concerned in the least about whether it’s good for me. One bite after another until it’s all gone. That’s what reading The Funeral Dress has been like for me–sweet and tasty and pleasurable, without any concern for profound questions. It’s escape fiction, with a feel-good spirit.

The Funeral Dress tells the story of Emmalee Bullard, a young woman with a brand-new baby who has never known a mother’s love herself. Just when she finally has an opportunity to escape her hard life and find someone who will care for her and her child, everything is taken away. Leona Lane is her co-worker at the sewing factory, but she and her husband Curtis die in a car accident the day before she is to pick up Emmalee and the baby. Emmalee responds by stepping up to make Leona a funeral dress, which draws the ire of the town and the attention of a variety of people interested in her life and her baby’s welfare. Some are genuinely caring and concerned, others are simply in it for themselves. The Funeral Dress unfolds the story of the days between Leona and Curtis’ death and funeral, with flashbacks that tell the story of Emmalee’s childhood, love and pregnancy, with flashbacks to Leona and Curtis’ own ups and downs in marriage.

The novel contained some of my favorite story elements–a woman living in hard circumstances finding her own way, the power of relationships between women, the twists and turns of changing relationships caused by her new outspokenness, and a sense of hope and encouragement without a fairy tale ending. The Funeral Dress was a good story well told, a fast read, and a fun escape.

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas, St. Martin’s Griffen, 2009.

Alright, I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m done with books about women quilting as a way to communicate, to create art, to tell stories, to bond with other women, whatever. It was interesting for awhile as a path to reclaim women’s voices in an era that silenced them, but the flood of articles, monographs, novels, museum exhibits and PBS specials has just made me feel really over it. Especially over novels that build around women’s quilting relationships.

Sorry, Ms. Dallas, that your novel happened upon my path after I had hit my limit.  I may have felt differently had I read it five years ago.

The premise of the book sounded intriguing—described on the back as the story of “an unlikely friendship between two women and the secrets they’ve kept in order to survive.” Really, though, it was a collection of short stories that were pasted together onto the frame story of the women’s friendship and secrets. It wasn’t bad, but the frame story just did not move me. The two main characters, Hennie Comfort and Nit Spindle, felt more like types than complex, living people. The thing about the quilts binding them together just felt tired, and the plot line between the women felt too forced.

What I liked about the book were the small stories that filled it out. It was like reading a collection of folk takes—brief, pithy, moralizing, unrelenting in their honesty. Dallas had clearly done a lot of research into the gold mining culture, and discovered or reinvented stories that opened up life in this remote, isolated subculture. She captured the storytelling voice very well, but the book’s overall voice captured my attention, but not my imagination.

I bought the book because of the title, and I was intrigued by the concept of prayers for sale. Hennie Comfort has the sign in her front yard, and it comes from her happiness with her life. She says, “I was so happy that I had nothing else to pray for. ‘Why,’ says I, ‘I’ve got prayers to sell!’ … I’ve got an abundance of prayers.” (p. 71) That image did not disappoint, and I will look forward to holding on to it. What a thing to imagine, that we all might be so happy and blessed that we have prayers left over we sell to others.

While I wish the rest of the book had maintained that poignancy and let go of the overdone quilting thing, it was still a relaxing and enjoyable read.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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