The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo
Marjorie Richards lives on the outskirts of a small town in rural New Hampshire but even that does not account for her level of isolation. She lives with her parents, who hardly leave their small patch of land except to go to the local bar and to Pastor Schect’s church on Sunday. They are so isolated, the family speaks in a dialect only they speak, another way Marjorie remains separated from her peers at school and the world in general.
Until her 17th birthday, when her parents tell her she needs to get a job in order to help support the family. Thus begins an apprenticeship with a newcomer to town, a dark-skinned young man called Sands, who wants to build a cathedral that is not related to any religion. Just a place to sit and be quiet.
Everything begins to change for Marjorie as she finds solace and then pride in the hard, physical labour, and her own hard won skills. As she begins to creep out from the darkness that surrounds her family, that same darkness fights back to keep her.
There is a lot of beauty in this book. Marjorie herself, who’s life has not been easy by anybody’s standards, shines fierce and determined amid the sordid lives of the adults around her. Sands is also a beautiful character, shy, quiet, yet determined to rise above his own circumstances. It takes a long time for either of them to trust each other, but when they finally do, the relationship is tender and strong.
I also enjoyed the counterpoint of the cult-ish, demonic view of God Marjorie was brought up with and that has caused her so much physical and emotional pain and the quiet, meditative spirituality represented by the Cathedral. This is a story of building, of making something beautiful, whether that be a cathedral made of stone or a strength within yourself.
I read this book in one day. Marjorie’s voice caught me from the beginning, as she looks back on her life from the relatively safe vantage point of 20 years in the future. Merullo’s casual dropping of terms such as boying or facing without telling us right away what they are was maddeningly enticing and made me want to keep reading. He manages to keep the mystery at the center of the novel hidden just behind the surface so you have a vague sense of unease- you know that feeling when you sense someone is in the room and look up but nobody’s there?
My only quibble is that the ending happened so fast in the middle of so many catastrophes it was hard to figure out what was going on. Until I did and then by that time what should have been a bigger impact was slightly diluted by the fact that the characters had already moved on.
This would definitely be on my long list for our school wide reads if we hadn’t read the Glass Castle a couple of years ago which deals with the similar subjects of poverty and neglectful parenting, albeit in a completely different way.