The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo

Marjorie Richards is an outcast through no fault of her own.  Her parents, neither of them social creatures totalk funny begin with, have raised her largely in isolation.  The family lives deep in the woods in rural New Hampshire and have few dealings with the outside world.  What interaction they do have is as members of a church sect led by a charismatic preacher who dictates harsh penances on his congregation, particularly the children.

Marjorie grows up into late adolescence tormented by the vagaries of her parents’ behavior and stunted in her social interactions.  She speaks a peculiar dialect that other kids tease her about, and largely keeps to herself.  When she turns seventeen, her parents press her to find employment to supplement the father’s questionable disability income, but jobs are hard to find, even for someone as eager to work as Marjorie.

Her aunt, a much-needed ally, finds Marjorie a job helping a young stonemason, an outsider himself, build what he calls a cathedral.  Marjorie is a quick learner and becomes fascinated with her new occupation.  Her new employer is kind, treats her as an equal, and she begins to flourish and envision a world away from her secluded family life. 

Despite Marjorie’s newfound happiness, she still has the burden of her troublesome home life.  Her father, tolerant at times, is moody and has a violent streak.  Her mother, sunk in a stupor of wine and cigarettes, subtly manipulates her husband, and the punishments that they mete out to Marjorie become increasingly loathsome – even life threatening.  

The backdrop to the book is a series of disappearances of teenage girls in the surrounding area.  Marjorie often has unfounded suspicions of her employer as the abductor.  It’s near the end that we find the answer, but if this makes the book a standard mystery, far from it.  The story is Marjorie’s, her coming of age and fortitude.  She is a heroine worthy of cheering on. 

The dialect the Richards family speaks can be hard to decipher at first, but the narrative is worth it.  This is my first reading of Roland Merullo’s books; I’d definitely like to check out his others that we have at the library.  You can as well, from here.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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