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Bedtime tales with comedy, invention

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The Winnipeg artists who brought us the videos We're Talking Vulva and Lesbian National Parks and Services show their multimedia skill in their first short-story collection, Bedtime Stories for the Edge of the World.

This imaginative and unique little book, which was featured as part of their installation in the Winnipeg Now exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, showcases the pair's distinctive blending of humour and fiction with social and political analysis.

With its distinctive hardcover design and cloth cover, it has the appearance of a long-cherished fairy tale compilation.

These eight bedtimes stories, however, are no saccharine "happily ever after" assortment, in which the hero rescues the helpless woman. Most of the stories, in fact, conclude with a brief historical summary of the true tales that Dempsey and Millan have crafted into modern-day metaphors.

The assortment's plotting and character development illustrate women's disadvantaged position in society which, sadly, remains an omnipresent aspect of women's daily lives.

One would expect nothing less of the artistic duo who have been touring internationally for over 25 years, presenting women's truths.

Confession of the Pirate Mary Read is a rollicking interpretation of the life of Mary Read, a pirate in the early 1700s. She and buccaneer buddy Anny Bonny plundered together for three years on the high seas around the Bahamas.

In this interpretation, Anne and Mary battle the British navy, ruthlessly fighting a troop of men. Despite the battle's less-than-ideal conclusion for the duo, Mary maintains that her life is all worth all the risk for ownership of her own person, declaring "[t]hat Necklace is my Fair Due, and prettier still that the Hands of Father, Master, Husband, and all of them would have choked the Life out of me far sooner than this."

Arbeiter Ring, the book's small local publisher, founded in 1996 by musician John K. Samson and writer-editor Todd Scarth, declares its mandate to be publishing "a dynamic combination of cultural, fiction, and non-fiction titles with an emphasis on progressive political analysis of contemporary issues, while encouraging innovative new writing."

Named after "a radical Jewish organization especially active in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919," the house has printed a wide range of creative titles, as well as the popular Grammar Matters by University of Manitoba linguist Jila Ghomeshi.

Millan and Dempsey are nothing if not progressive, and their most recent work is a fine example of their ability to portray the, unfortunately, sexist reality that continues to permeate women's lives with a sense of humour.

The Lesbian Love Story of the Lone Ranger and Tonto points out that "in almost every single western, every single brown-haired, brown-eyed, brown-skinned woman is called Maria."

That the Ranger and Tonto are actually lesbians, and Maria, "a larger-than-life lesbo," masquerades as Tonto to make their journey together easier is just one example of the authors' skill with the delicate combination of comedy, reality and invention.


Elizabeth Hopkins is a Winnipeg writer.



Bedtime Stories for the Edge of the World

By Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan

Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 126 pages, $25

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 J8

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