Ghost Wife by Michelle Dicinoski
In 2005, Michelle Dicinoski and her American girlfriend, Heather, decided to get married. The proposal came, wildly and beautifully, from Michelle musing casually about a road trip together to Canada. And of course, it had to be Canada, because neither Australia nor the US recognise same-sex marriage.
Strong-willed and simply told, Ghost Wife is a memoir of turns and eddies. Michelle begins with her contemporary self – tracing her long flight with Heather to the town of Newburyport, just outside of Boston, and from there, their journey to Toronto’s City Hall. It is a trip filled with anticipation and nervous excitement, but also uneasy reflections on the nature of belonging and choice. What will it mean, for example, to be married in one country but not at home? Will her soon-to-be in-laws accept them? And what does one wear to a wedding when the last thing you want to appear like is a stock-standard hetero bride and groom?
The book is also interspersed with memories of Michelle’s teenagehood and early twenties, from her move to Melbourne in the hope of meeting a girl to her eventual and painful coming out to her parents. Moving, gentle fragments of hidden queer histories drift by. There’s Lilian Cooper and Josephine Bedford, two women who journeyed from London to Brisbane so that Lilian could work as Queensland’s first female doctor; they spent their entire lives together and were eventually buried side by side at the Toowong Cemetery.
It’s hard to describe just how affecting Ghost Wife is. Because it is, at heart and in the truest sense, a very romantic book, meaning it rests not on clichés but deep-running emotions. Michelle’s voice is clear, sensitive and defiant, and her gathering of stories and histories gracefully handpicked. That it is timely and important is a given, but that it is unsentimental and yet incredibly moving is a feat. This is one that will stay with you.
Jessica Au is the editor of the Readings Monthly and an occasional bookseller down at Readings St Kilda.