Book Review: The Funeral Dress

September 4, 2013 1970's, Appalachia, babies, book review, death, families, friendship, funerals, poverty, southern lit, Susan Gregg Gilmore, Tennessee 4

Written By:  Susan Gregg Gilmore

Published By: Broadway Books an imprint of Crown Publishing September 3, 2013

Length:  352 pages

Source: Publisher ARC

In the Appalachian area of Tennessee there is the valley area of Red Chert Holler where Emmalee Bullard has grown up.  Her mother died when she was very young, and her father Nolan, tried to raise her.  Nolan is a drunk who works odd jobs to keep them from starving to death.  Their home has thin walls, their roof leaks and has no running water or heat.

When she was 16 she dropped out of school, and the next day went to work at the Tennawa Shirt Factory.  She was placed next to a woman who had one of the highest productivities in the factory.  Leona Lane minds her own business and works as much as she can.  She’s not overly warm to Emmalee but she offers her a sandwich, and she gives her subtle advice on who to stay away from and how to keep her nose clean.

Three years later Emmalee gives birth to a tiny baby girl, right there on the floor of the factory.  Emmalee is alone and not very comfortable in new role…she feels there is not way out of her life of poverty.  Her daddy won’t allow anyone to help them, his ignorance and pride won’t let him. A surprising offer to leave the holler and move to the trailer Leona and Curtis Lane shared on Old Lick, in the hills above the valley.  Leona had told her they had a spare room, and while small it was clean and she would have plenty of room and food and extra hands to help her with baby Kelly Faye.

This dream was snatched away from Emmalee when Leona and Curtis were in an awful car accident and killed.  In her state of depression and shock Emmalee does decide one thing.  She will make Leona’s funeral dress.  It will be the last thing she can give her, and she won’t listen to the arguments of the Pastor or anyone else in town.  It is what she wants most to do.  This gift, this act of pure love brings much debate and gossip in a small town.  Friendships and support come in strange and unexpected places.

I felt like I was transported to a small community in Tennessee where life is hard. Emmalee and Leona are unlikely friends, but become much more to each other after working with each other in a shirt factory for three years. Their lives very different but neither less heart breaking. I cried a lot at the end of this book, what emotions this book brought out in me!!  Susan Gregg Gilmore has shown once again that writing about life in the south is unique and yet universal in how people need and seek love and acceptance.  

Emmalee and Leona  both had dreams when they were younger, dreams dashed by poverty and choices that others made for them, or because of tragedies that were out of their control.  Leona is older and has seen beyond her own life, she is reaching out to another young life, to help, to lend that hand.  Leona has forgiven herself and her husband for the bad time in their life.  Emmalee is just learning to think of others beyond herself….learning to love.

I met Susan two and half years ago at the UCF book festival just as the goodreads Southern Lit group was finishing reading  THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE.  Susan was so very kind to me, taking the time to talk to me about her book and then introducing me to authors all day.  She is a woman with a huge heart and sincere appreciation for book lovers.  Certainly she changed the way I blogged and networked.  She and her friends taught me how to use twitter and follow the right folks.  I owe her so very much, and I’m proud to call her friend. 

I am giving this book 5 of 5 stars, I loved it so much.  There is a feeling of family where there was none, a book that made me feel hope where there was just sadness.  I highly recommend this book.  Please follow Susan on facebook and twitter(@susangilmore) and on her website.  Look for her visiting bookstores all over the US this fall….she is an amazing woman and author. 

4 Responses to “Book Review: The Funeral Dress”

  1. Unknown

    Thanks for your thorough review. I particularly like how you said, “here is a feeling of family where there was none, a book that made me feel hope where there was just sadness.”
    I am trying to hold out until Susan’s book event up here in Chattanooga, but I just may have to buy an e-version beforehand.

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