cover image The White Dress

The White Dress

Nathalie Léger, trans. from the French by Natasha Lehrer. Dorothy, $16 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-948980-05-0

Léger’s standout conclusion to her trilogy of meditations on the lives of women (after Exposition) shuttles between the stories of Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca, who hitchhiked across Europe in a wedding dress in 2008, and the narrator’s mother, who was put through a grueling divorce in 1970s France. The narrator traces Bacca’s journey through the Balkans, noting how Bacca had “wanted to travel through countries that had recently experienced war.” Along the way, Bacca washed the feet of local midwives and vowed to “never refuse to get in a car.” After consciously placing herself at risk by traveling alone, Bacca was murdered in Turkey by one of the drivers who picked her up. The narrator then sifts through possible interpretations of Bacca’s self-destructive act, wrestling with her own “inability to grasp what was simultaneously significant and trivial in her gesture.” After an encounter with an unsympathetic male journalist, the narrator abandons an attempt to interview Bacca’s mother and visits her own mother, whose ex-husband had cheated on her but schemed to make her declared the guilty party in court. Now at the end of her life, the narrator’s mother tries to enlist her daughter to “defend, or even avenge” her, despite the narrator’s reluctance. Throughout, Léger offers striking observations on how making art distills experience, while references to the polar approaches of Leo Tolstoy and Svetlana Alexeivich—adorned descriptions vs. unalloyed reporting—inform Léger’s own method. Readers should not miss this smart, skillful reckoning with acts of selflessness, betrayal, and grief. (Sept.)