cover image The Talk-Funny Girl

The Talk-Funny Girl

Roland Merullo. Crown, $23 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-45292-4

Merullo's (Breakfast with Buddha) coming-of-age story is told from afar by Marjorie Richards, now a married mother of two, but 20-some years ago a poor girl with an awkward dialect stuck in rural New Hampshire with abusive parents. On the eve of her 17th birthday, Margie's dad tells her to find "full-pay work" and she gets a job helping Sands Ivers build a cathedral from the ruins of a burned church. It's a lucky break, as Sands's recovery from past trauma shows Margie how to shed her damaged adolescent shell in favor of a young woman's self-assurance%E2%80%94if she doesn't end up murdered, that is, as a sadistic killer is rounding up and murdering young girls in the area. The adult Margie's desire to relive this year is fueled by her need to break the chain of abuse. She evaluates the psychology that kept her a victim to her parents' sadism, but that sadism, which is over the top, and Margie's emotional remove make it hard to empathize. The kidnap-and-murder plot Merullo adds keeps the pages turning, but it resolves with a conclusion that, though twisted, seems to involve almost everyone Margie knows, putting a further strain on the reader's belief. (July)