I Am A Red Dress: Incantations On A Grandmother, A Mother, And A Daughter by Anna Camilleri (Arsenal Pulp), 256 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Anna Camilleri is definitely heading in the right direction. I Am A Red Dress, the collection the cultural agitator and fab femme launches this week, features new and previously published works based on her personal experience growing up in Toronto and coming out in Vancouver.
She calls them incantations, but the forms change. Some are stories, some just small episodes and some short poems. All of them are pointed and powerful.
The pieces are linked thematically by the idea of the red dress, which appears first in the book's opening line as a threat out of the mouth of Camilleri's mother. She announces then, and more than once through the author's childhood, that when her father (Camilleri's grandfather) dies, she will wear a red dress to the funeral.
There is a profound irony in this statement. Camilleri's mother knows her father as alternately abusive and absent - hence her threat - but when she sees him sexually assaulting his granddaughter, she walks away as if nothing has happened.
The fulcrum of the collection is Camilleri's decision to charge her grandfather with sexual assault, an experience that both empowered her and alienated her from members of her family.
Ultimately, the red dress, something Camilleri herself has been known to wear around town, becomes a symbol of the defiance and courage that enable her to take legal action and later to declare herself queer.
There isn't a ton of new ground covered in this slim volume, but Camilleri's a terrific writer, in control of some emotionally charged prose.
She says she's going to keep on telling her personal stories. I'm waiting for a debut novel.
Let's have it.