The Funeral Dress
by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Why did you choose this book? I liked the synopsis
When did you read this book? October 2013
Who should read this book? readers who enjoy stories of the south
Source: Early Reviewers at Librarything.com
Emmalee Bullard and her new baby are on their own. Or so she thinks, until Leona Lane, the older seamstress who sat by her side at the local shirt factory where both women worked as collar makers, insists Emmalee come and live with her. Just as Emmalee prepares to escape her hardscrabble life in Red Chert holler, Leona dies tragically. Grief-stricken, Emmalee decides she’ll make Leona’s burying dress, but there are plenty of people who don't think the unmarried Emmalee should design a dress for a Christian woman - or care for a child on her own. But with every stitch, Emmalee struggles to do what is right for her daughter and to honor Leona the best way she can, finding unlikely support among an indomitable group of seamstresses and the town’s funeral director. In a moving tale exploring Southern spirit and camaraderie among working women, a young mother will compel a town to become a community.
I won this book from Librarything.com Early Reviewers. I entered to win because the synopsis sounded really interesting to me. The story is set in the 70s in the southern Appalachians. Emmalee is a young woman who lost her mother as a young girl and has been living in the lowest of poverty with a father who barely acknowledges her existence. The only exception is when he is letting her know she is a drain on him and reminds her that he never signed up to raise her alone. He works very sporadically, so there is little income, and he spends most of his time drinking or scavenging, He refuses to allow any ‘charity’ in his home. When Emmalee reaches the age of seventeen, he demands she drop out of school to start contributing to the household. So Emmalee takes a job at a local shirt factory.
All the women are also working and living paycheck to paycheck and aren’t particularly welcoming to the new girl. Leona Lane however, while cool, does take an interest in Emmalee and teaches her what she needs to know about sewing. Skipping forward a couple of years, Emmalee, unmarried, gives birth to a daughter. Leona invites Emmalee and the baby to move in with her and her husband, Curtis. Sadly, the night before they are to move in to the Lane trailer, Leona and her husband are killed in a terrible accident. Emmalee takes on the project of creating a ‘funeral dress’ for Leona. This all takes place very early in the story.
We hardly get to know Leona before she dies, but through a series of ‘flashback’ chapters, we come to know both Leona and her husband, Curtis. The book describes the poverty and attitudes of southern Appalachia in the early 1970s. At times, I forgot I was reading about relatively recent history, as it seemed strange to realize that some did not have phones or indoor plumbing even in the 70s. I have to admit that at the beginning, the story moved very slowly, and I was tempted to put it down. But as the book moved along and I became involved in the story, I coud hardly stop reading. I really enjoyed following Emmalee as she grew as a mother, and learned to trust others, as well as learned there were some she could not trust. I liked the ending, which was not ‘happily ever after’ but was ‘ok ever after’. We don’t completely know what happens with Emmalee. She may get her ‘happily ever after’ but if not, we understand that she will be ‘ok’, because she now has a sense of community. I don’t want to give any spoliers so I will only say that there was one aspect of the ending that did leave me disappointed. One person did not have the epiphany I’d hoped for and did not become the person her husband thought she was.
This would be another good book club pick, raising topics including attitudes in the 70s towards unwed mothers, social services and many others. If you can stick with this, it is a good story.
My Rating: ★★★1/2 3-1/2 Stars