I don’t think I put Grace’s weaving in the essay, but she’s also a weaver and had spent a good deal of her recovery at the loom.
The funeral was actually Marguerite Young’s (the author of the novel Miss Macintosh, My Darling.) I thought the image of the life-sized dolls was both humorous (and so not funereal) and uncanny and kind of brave on her part, a real assertion of her quirkiness.
The idea becomes sticky in the writing but also in the reality.
Experiencing the day itself becomes part of the meditation and makes the day itself feel charged, meaningful.
Her books are filled with these kinds of strange juxtapositions.
Also, and I didn’t mention this either, she’s also being erased.Nine years ago this week, Allie Leach, one of the then-new students at the MFA program where I had just taken a job, came up to me raving about Susan Neville. I didn't, I had to admit, but such was the nature of Allie's enthusiasm (I think you'd really like it, she'd said: it's pretty weird)—which is also the nature of Allie Leach in general—that I ordered a copy of Neville's book Fabrications, a collection of essays about the nature of making things in the Midwest.I read it and enjoyed it a great deal, to the point where I scanned a couple essays from it as pdfs for archiving and teaching somewhere down the line.Writing about it, I thought, well, why not ask her instead, which led to this conversation about the essay.Turns out that Neville's next book is The Town of Whispering Dolls, which won the Catherine Doctorow Prize from FC2 and will be published next spring.Maybe this is a question more asking you to talk about how to handle an essay that begins at a funeral without making it funereal, or to deliver an argument (about erasure and women and dolls) without seeming to. I just went back and re-read the essay because I couldn’t remember ever beginning something with a funeral and couldn’t imagine what funeral it was.Did you know you were going to begin the essay at a funeral, or did you arrive there later? And when I remember the experience, I remember the humor and the beauty.There are notably only two men we actually meet in the essay: the one who “takes an ice pick and stabs the back of the sweet pink babies’ heads to let out air” and the one who tells the story about buying a doll for his mother and getting pulled over because of its realism. And we never even meet Gretel Ehrlich Turner in the essay.In fact you seem to go out of your way to hide her, grammatically, in this litany deep in the essay: Women in the town make homemade dresses…there’s a woman who puts a copper mask over each doll’s face and paints the lips…there’s another woman who affixes the eyelashes and trims the lower ones, and a woman who dresses the dolls, and a woman who applies the wigs…a woman who stuffs the torsos and who ties the heads…and who puts the final stitch in the back of the torso and who numbers each doll’s neck with ink…I think I mean light in the not-heavy way (though there’s lots of serious matter in it) as well as in a brightness/ lots-of-light kind of way.It treats its subjects delicately and even amusingly (it’s hard for me not to read the stabbing-the-baby head scene without laughing, for instance), and seems pleased to proceed by implication, redirection, and indirect arguments.