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The Funeral Dress

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  3,631 ratings  ·  511 reviews
A deeply touching Southern story filled with struggle and hope.

     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
Paperback, 356 pages
Published September 3rd 2013 by Broadway Books
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3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,631 ratings  ·  511 reviews

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Ruth Turner
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: southern-lit

A beautifully written, easy read, filled with wonderful, believable characters that I took to my heart. There wasn't anything I didn't like about this book.

I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys southern lit which, since joining Goodreads, is fast becoming my favourite genre.

Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Susan Gregg Gilmore gained many new fans when she spoke at the first Booktopia Vermont. I will never forget her voice as she read a bit of Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen. It is this voice I hear when reading Gilmore's new book The Funeral Dress: A Novel I'm glad for this as it is the Tennessee or southern inflection that makes the story flow languidly like honey for me. You can just hear these women talking but I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

The Funeral Dress: A Novel is just that,
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of Southern Fiction
Recommended to Dawn by: I saw it recommended on Amazon & have read the author's other two books.
I loved this book! I hated for the story to end. This is one of those books that gets you emotionally attached to the characters. I felt for Emmalee and her situation. I loved Leona and Curtis. I enjoyed the chapters that went into their earlier years. This was a remarkable story about the power of friendship and the coming together of a community in a time of sorrow. It was a tribute to the lives and friendships of working women in America. This story will have you cheering for the underdog and ...more
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Yolanda by: Cindy
Shelves: read-in-2013
I highly recommend this book. I very seldom cry and this book brought tears to my eye with its tender story several times.
I grew up in a little town much like Cullen in MS. The community is eerily similar to the one I grew up in and my mom worked most of her life in a sewing factory to make sure we had food and clothes.She was my hero and their were so many woman in these factories who were like the characters in the book who did what they had to do to provide for their families.
These small comm

Oh, my, what a storyteller Susan Gregg Gilmore is. The title of this wonderful book doesn't begin to really give insight into the richness of the tale you'll find in it. I really couldn't stop reading it, though I found myself stopping momentarily many times, putting the book down and just recalling days in my life that fit the scenarios and places she describes. This is a treasure of a book.

I want to say something else about the story here. It is so full and moving a
Meh. Not my thing. I'm not exactly sure why I even bothered, because I was quite positive this would be my reaction before I started it.

The supposed premise is that of an overwrought teenager making a dress for an older woman to be buried in. Said older woman worked with teen in a dress factory, and was going to help her bring up her ill-advised and totally unexpected baby. The narrative switches between perspectives, that of - Emmalee, the teen and Leona, the older woman who dies pretty much r
Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews
A child herself, unwed, a baby, no mother, not attending school, working at a sewing factory, an abusive father, and no place to go. How much more could Emmalee take?

Emmalee Bullard quit school because her father told her he was tired of taking care of her, and she needed to get a job. She fortunately was hired at the town's sewing factory and met a wonderful woman, Leona, who treated her like family, but then that didn't work out either for Emmalee.

Emmalee had to make a funeral dress for Leona
Lydia Presley
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I will admit to a bit of hesitancy when picking up The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore. Why? Because I did not have a good experience with Gilmore's previous works and was worried that this one would be the final nail on the coffin for me. Thankfully, I was wrong. Instead of turning me off, Gilmore did something incredible with this story of Emmalee - she tugged at my heartstrings and wrote a story that I just couldn't figure out an ending to - but when I read her ending, it fit well. So, e ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A deceptively simple, well-researched book about the women of Southern Appalachia who worked in factories sewing dresses and shirts. It interweaves themes of rural poverty, working women and class distinctions plus a deep sense of community.
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Author Susan Gregg Gilmore has done an excellent job of blending the good and the bad, the beauty and the ugliness of Appalachia mountain living. The valleys and hills of the fictional community of Cullen, Tennessee provide a spectacular piece of nature as a background to a story that is both cruel and uplifting. The love and nurture of a small Southern town are heartwarming to observe, but the judgmental and gossipy backlash are strikes to break any lingering hope for something better in a down ...more
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For some, life during the mid 20th century in the rural south was happy and fulfilling, complete with considerate neighbors, a good job, a supportive church, and a loving family. For others, like Emmalee Bullard, life was a hardscrabble existence, trying to survive from one day to the next any way one could.

Nothing has ever gone right for Emmalee. Born to poor parents, her father was drunk much of the time and her down-trodden mother died of cancer when Emmalee was but a child. Emmalee grew up m
Rebecca Elswick
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved everything about Gilmore's wonderful new novel,The Funeral Dress. The characters were vivid and so real I found myself looking at strangers and thinking, "that girl looks like Emmalee Bullard, or I bet Leona Lane would dress like that woman."

The plot of The Funeral Dress is compelling - young Emmalee is trapped in Red Chert holler with her deadbeat father until she meets Leona at the sewing factory where they both make collars. When Emmalee has a baby, Leona plans to rescue Emmalee and t
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recent-reads
As the story opens, we meet young Emmalee walking into a sewing factory looking for work. She is hired on the spot and put next to the reticent Leona. Leona isn't known for being friendly, but Emmalee finds her way into the woman's good graces somehow.

The story flips forward and backward in time. Within a few years, Emmalee finds herself a single mother. Her father, Nolan, is neglectful and unreliable. Emmalee's mother died when she was a child and Nolan blames Emmalee for her death. When Leona
Jul 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kate by: Books on the Nightstand
I won this novel from Goodreads FirstReads program and then I bought a copy. I have met Susan Gregg Gilmore at two weekends sponsored by Books on the Nightstand and having read and enjoyed her three novels, this may be my favorite. Emmalee Bullard is a teen, living with her mostly indifferent, fairly abusive father, Nolan in very rural Tennessee. She has left high school and taken a job in a shirt/ dress factory where she is surrounded by women who are all looking to better their lives. As her l ...more
Sep 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: southern
This is more of a 3.5 star read for me. Gilmore does a wonderful job bringing out the desperation in her characters. You can't help but "cheat" and thumb through the end pages to see how things turn out. I loved the strong personalities of both the men and women characters. The story does an excellent job of bringing out the backwoods south. The author is very descriptive with her words painting a very realistic picture of this area and it's people. I have to say I developed a soft spot for the ...more
Pamela Barrett
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Red Chert Holler, in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee is a tough place for a young girl to grow up, and Emmalee Bullard has it harder than most. Besides relentless poverty, and harsh living conditions; her father, Nolan, is a mean drunk who won’t accept help from anyone even if it means his daughter has to go without. When Emmalee is sixteen she drops out of high school and goes to work at the towns dress factory, where she is paired with Leona, who is one of the best seamstresses in the c ...more
Jul 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author did a remarkable job with this book, even if the content made me mad most of the time. What Susan Gregg Gilmore did was give each and every one of these characters a very authentic voice. I might not have liked what they had to say, but authentic they were. There’s Emmalee Bullard and her new baby, who are living with Emmalee’s abusive father, somewhere in a holler of rural Tennessee. The other main character is Leona Lane, the older seamstress who sat by Emmalee’s side at the local s ...more
Jan 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended by a friend that likes the same type of books that I do. The book doesn't tell you the time period the action takes places, but I got the impression it was maybe in the late 1960's, early 1970's. The first part of the book was a bit depressing and I felt truly heartbroken for Emmalee, but I felt like the author was setting the stage for something better in the second half. The life as depicted here in this small Appalachian town was certainly hard, but I feel it was por ...more
Nov 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Such a sweet little story! I only gave it 4 stars because it was a tad predictable and I need more suspense, usually, to keep me intrigued. But this book was great! It was chosen by my local book club, and at first I was optimistic about the genre and writing style...

That lasted for the first chapter, then boys it got good!

When you're done, though, I feel that every sensory in your emotional brain bank has been touched. In this story you'll read about a very poor girl who's first time having se
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I really liked this book. The characters are very well portrayed and defined. You really get to know them. The book has a really good sense of "place" - the setting is almost another character in the book. The information about the shirt factory was very interesting also.
Although Leona Lane dies early on, you get to know her backstory through flashbacks. Emmalee has a lot of inner strength for a young girl raised under extremely difficult circumstances. Although she faces a lot of adversity, th
Sep 03, 2013 rated it liked it
If you are a fan of Southern Fiction, this faith based, character driven book will resonate with you. I found it to be a slow starter, but I am glad I kept with it, as it was eventually a lovely, touching story. The story is centered around two women joined by circumstance, whose lives interweave. I found the author's method of telling the story by going back and forth from the present to the past a bit hard to follow, but that's just my taste. Ms. Gregg Gilmore's characters were strong, her dia ...more
My kind of book, full of heart, description, endearing with snippets of good homegrown common sense. What I especially liked about this book were the women and one man in particular who rallied around this young mother who never had anyone who cared for her. I identified so much with Emmalee because I was an unwed mother who felt all alone with no one who truly felt I could manage to raise my daughter. How important it is to have people believing and supporting you when you have doubts in yourse ...more
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Coming from several generations of sewers, I was eager to see how the lives of rural Tennessee shirt factory seamstresses unfolded. Motherless Emmalee drops out of high school at 16 to work in a clothing factory. She's lived in poverty and social isolation her entire short life.

At the factory, she sits next to middle-aged Leona who takes Emmalee under her wing. Leona's unexpected death 3 years later at a critical juncture in Emmalee's life sets up the crisis for this small community. As she dete
Heather Fineisen
Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: southern-living
Southern writing at it's best. Fans of Lee Smith, Cassandra King will appreciate the despair and humor featured in The Funeral Dress. I feel like I know some of these characters. I especially like how Gilmore used the setting of the sewing factory to create another family setting to showcase in her novel, and to show your family by blood is not always the best or only place for you. The camaraderie of southern women is strong and Susan Gregg Gilmore makes it shine.

provided by publisher
Oct 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book takes place in the time it takes for someone to die and the funeral. There are alternating chapters that take the reader back into Lenoa Lane's story. The present is told through the voice of Emmalee, who is a teenage mother with a hardscrabble life. She decides to honor her friend Lenoa by making her a funeral dress, or what my characters in Appalachia would call a burying dress. Beautiful story about strong but flawed women. Love this book and I highly recommend.
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I liked how this showed a simple life, a simple girl, a simple time, with a complex set of high morals and standards. I loved how she honored her friend Quick read. And yes I liked it even tho there was 'sewing' involved!! ( me who doesn't own one of those shiny pointy things)
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 stars. This wasn't my favorite. I liked the sense of community of the ladies working in the factory. How they looked out for each other, had each other's backs but also called the other ladies out when they stepped out of line. I liked how the women stepped up to help Emmalee and I felt like her story was real & well told. I didn't love any of the characters & thought some of the situations were really contrived.
Content: lots of mild swearing, a little violence, mentions of sex but
The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore Emmalee Bullard dropped out of school to begin work at the Tennewa Shirt Factory at age sixteen when her father refused to take her to school anymore and demanded she find a job. She is paired with Leona Lane, a long time employee, whose own life could have mirrored Emmalee’s but for some of the decisions she made. Leona teaches Emmalee everything she knows about sewing and soon a friendship is borne between the older woman and this younger girl. When Emm ...more
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am here for professional sewers and babies. However I’m not very much about horrible gruesome poorly timed death. With everyone and the universe working so hard to screw them over I had a hard time believing we would make it to a happy ending. But we did, I’m glad to say.
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Emmalee is living a hard life. She's living in an unheated shack with her drunken, abusive father, barely getting enough food to eat. She drops out of high school and gets a job sewing collars at the local dress factory where the difficult older seamstress who sits next to her and trains her, Leona, also eventually befriends her. When Emmalee ends up pregnant, Leona offers that she and her baby can move into Leona's trailer with her and her husband. But the night before Emmalee and the baby are ...more
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Susan Gregg Gilmore was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1961. Although her artist mother bought her daughter her first easel and box of paints when she was five, it was her fathers love of family storytelling that captured their young daughters attention.

Gregg Gilmore knew at an early age that she wanted to write but was soon drawn to journalism not fiction. While at the University of Virginia, s