One of the things I love about Pittsburgh is how much this city embraces the written word and the authors who bring stories to life. We’re quite the literary town. As a way to celebrate all things “bookish in the Burgh,” I created “READIN’AT,” a column focused on Pittsburgh-based novels and stories, authors, and literary events around town (or …tahn).
With today’s post, I’m proud to announce that READIN’AT is now a weekly feature here on the blog, rather than just a whenever-the-hell-I-feel-like-it kind of thing. Look for it every Thursday!
The Girl Factory: A Memoir
by Karen Dietrich
skirt! an imprint of Globe Pequot Press
Audio narrated by Cassandra Campbell
As a child of the ’70s and ’80s growing up in Connellsville, PA, a working-class town located 57 miles south of Pittsburgh, Karen’s life is fairly predictable. Both of her parents work different shifts at Anchor Glass, a local bottle factory in town. They’re the proverbial ships passing in the night; their daughters Karen and Linda are latchkey children during an era when such arrangements were not only acceptable but very much the norm.
In March 1985, the Anchor Glass plant was the scene of a mass shooting by a disgruntled former employee who killed several colleagues of Karen’s parents. The incident devastated and shook the town, and although Ms. Dietrich’s parents were not at the plant at the time of the murders, it was certainly a traumatic incident.
A sidenote: the book jacket and promotional copy give the impression that the killings and the aftermath are the focus of this memoir. It is not. In fact, it’s almost downplayed. I’m somewhat perplexed by that, actually; I didn’t live in the Pittsburgh area during that timeframe and I don’t remember any news coverage of this incident – probably because March 1985 was pretty damn traumatic in my own life.
So let’s just leave it at this: I sincerely hope that the murder of four people wasn’t used as a marketing ploy to sell some books.
Because the reality is that The Girl Factory works perfectly fine – and then some – on its own as a coming-of-age memoir about Karen’s relationship with her emotionally cold and ultra-superstitious mother, the changing dynamics of families over time and generations, and the power of unspoken truths on our lives.
“Some stories belong to my mother, if it’s possible to own a story, to carry it inside a small case you wear, perhaps one that fits inside your shoe, invisible to most people. She only takes the stories out of the case for me, not Linda, not my father, not the women she talks to on the phone. Just me. Sometimes, I feel like the stories were written just for me, so that maybe I can carry a small case of my own stories some day, so I will remember the shape of suffering.” (pg. 12)
If Karen needs a reminder of the shape of suffering, all she needs to do is pick up her book. That’s not meant as an insult. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s incredibly well-written (Ms. Dietrich nails the ’80s references, even some that I had forgotten) but the sadness that comes through every page can seem overwhelming. There’s so much lost here, so very, very much.
But so much to gain, on the reader’s part.
I listened to this on audio, which was an excellent choice. Cassandra Campbell is one of the best audiobook narrators (and one of my favorites) and she doesn’t disappoint with The Girl Factory.
4 out of 5 stars