I know the landscape of Karen Dietrich’s memoir, The Girl Factory. It’s a small factory town in rural Pennsylvania. It’s a household where parents work different shifts at the local factory — a mother who works days, while the father takes the “Hoot Owl” (A term used by my family for the night shift — also called The Graveyard Shift). It’s a house filled with pets and superstition and complicated love.
Certainly, it was this familiar landscape that drew me into The Girl Factory, a memoir about a young girl growing up in the 80’s in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. But it was the lyrical language that made me stay.
I knew Dietrich’s work as a poet (and because we both attended the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg as undergraduates), but even I was surprised about how she was able to find poetic prose in a dusty and rusty small factory town, especially when the subjects found in her book lead to deeper dirt than what coats the physical surface.
Dietrich starts her book in 1985, when an employer of the Anchor Glass plant (the factory where both of her parents work) goes on a shooting spree killing four supervisors and then himself. It’s this moment, when the family finds out about the shooting, that Dietrich explains: “There are moments that separate before from after, minutes in time that freeze like a photograph, capture a flash that indicates change. I start to realize that everything I’ve lived so far has been the before. I don’t know what the after will be.”
What follows as the “after” is a coming-of-age story about class issues and family relationships, a book that integrates the pop culture of the 80’s and 90’s, and a work that is able to explore even the darker findings of Dietrich’s childhood without losing the lyrical grace of her poetic language.
I have followed Dietrich’s work as a poet (see my review about her chapbook Anchor Glass here), and I preordered The Girl Factory over six months ago. It didn’t disappoint. In an age where memoirs are seemingly everywhere — this book certainly stands out as a must read. You can read more about Dietrich and her work at her website.