In one of the poorest parts of rural New Hampshire, teenage girls have been disappearing, snatched from back country roads, never to be seen alive again. For seventeen-year-old Marjorie Richards, the fear raised by these abductions is the backdrop to what she lives with her own home, every day. Marjorie has been raised by parents so intentionally isolated from normal society that they have developed their own dialect, a kind of mountain hybrid of English that displays both their ignorance of and disdain for the wider world. Marjorie is tormented by her classmates, who call her “The Talk-funny girl,” but as the nearby factory town sinks deeper into economic ruin and as her parents fall more completely under the influence of a sadistic cult leader, her options for escape dwindle. But then, thanks to a loving aunt, Marjorie is hired by a man, himself a victim of abuse, who is building what he calls “a cathedral,” right in the center of town.
Day by day, Marjorie’s skills as a stoneworker increase, and so too does her intolerance for the bitter rules of her family life. Gradually, through exposure to the world beyond her parents’ wood cabin thanks to the kindness of her aunt and her boss, and an almost superhuman determination, she discovers what is loveable within herself. This newfound confidence and self-esteem ultimately allows her to break free from the bleak life she has known, to find love, to start a family, and to try to heal her old, deep wounds without passing that pain on to her husband and children.
By turns darkly menacing and bright with love and resilience, The Talk-Funny Girl is the story of one young woman’s remarkable courage, a kind of road map for the healing of early abuse, and a testament to the power of kindness and love.A Letter from Author Roland Merullo
The Talk-Funny Girl came as a surprise to me because I’ve lived in rural New England for the past thirty years and never set a novel here. I’m a city kid by birth and upbringing, and though I like living in the country–a good place to raise kids, a good place to work–my inspiration has always come from the mix of faces, voices, and characters of urban life.
I never plan what I’m going to write, and never outline. I just sit down with a pad of yellow paper and a favorite fountain pen, or with my laptop, start putting words on the page or screen and see where it leads. This time it led me into the world of Marjorie Richards, a remarkable seventeen-year-old young woman whose life is about as different from my own as two lives can be. It wasn’t until I was hundreds of pages into the book that I remembered something I’d seen in a convenience store in Pownal, Vermont, in the early 1980’s, and realized the story had its origins there.
What I saw and heard in that store, on the way home from a day of carpentry, was a dirty, poorly-dressed young mother chastising her dirty, poorly-dressed two-year-old with a bizarre, illogical, racist taunt. Just a couple of sentences, just an over-wrought mother losing it with her child, but it was a glimpse into the hidden world of rural poverty. There we were, five miles north of Williams College and five miles south of Bennington College, and a sad, hidden American underbelly was showing its face to me.
I won’t repeat what the mother said here–her remark can be found about three-quarters of the way through the novel. At the time, unforgettable as the moment was, I certainly never imagined writing about it. But so many years later I found myself wondering what that little child’s life was like then, and what kind of adulthood it turned into. If his mother would say such things in public, what went on in the privacy of their home? I have always been interested in the workings of the family, and in the inner lives of children (and adults), and it’s clear to me now that The Talk-Funny Girl grew out of that interest, sparked by the moment in Pownal.
Another persistent fascination–from my first novel, Leaving Losapas, until this day–is the way people manage to put themselves back together after a difficult or traumatic experience. War, divorce, addiction, illness, the loss of a loved one–these are subjects that have found their way into all my stories over the past couple of decades. The fascination with people who overcome such things led me to Marjorie Richards, raised by crazy parents, in poverty, in west-central New Hampshire, so this is really the story of her bravery, her refusal to surrender to the forces that beset her. She personifies that mysterious stubbornness you see in good people who’ve been through bad times, and I mean the novel as a gesture of compassion for mistreated kids, and a tribute to the ones, like her, who overcome mistreatment and do everything they can not to pass it on.