Book Review: Almost Crimson by Dasha Kelly
Is a life a chronological affair, events fitting neatly on a timeline, or is it a complicated compiling of events, all layering on top of one another? Crimson, or CeCe, has, by no one’s estimation, had an easy life. In Almost Crimson, Dasha Kelly shows the reader how having absentee father, damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war, and a mother who suffers from severe and chronic depression forced CeCe to grow up fast and to take on adult responsibilities almost as soon as she was able to read; however, by the end of the book, we see that the little girl has become a strong woman, finally able to look after herself first.
Present-day CeCe is a young woman with a stable job, but fearful of taking any steps that might lead her away from her mother’s side. The relationship has become codependent, certainly, and while Carla has needed CeCe to take care of her throughout her life and many bouts of mental illness, CeCe fears not only what would happen to her mother if she left, but also what would happen to herself. Who is she if not the daughter, the caretaker? What is her identity separate from her mother? When CeCe is given a house by a friend in the end stages of cancer, it becomes clear that she will have to make a choice: move into the house alone and become her own person, or take her mother to the new place and continue on as they have been.
Almost Crimson’s narrative structure makes an interesting statement about the way a life—a person—is shaped. As the title tells us, this is a story of a woman on the cusp, someone almost herself, but not quite there yet. The back-and-forth nature of the narrative—bouncing between present-day, adult CeCe and her younger self—shows that a person is a culmination of her past lives (and maybe even the past lives of her parents). “Think about it,” CeCe’s friend Terri tells her. “Your mother isn’t the only one who’s been shaped by this life you’ve shared.”
To further emphasize this idea of layered becoming, Kelly uses most of the flashback moments to show different milestone events—first day of school, first time meeting her father, first sexual experience—so that we expect another milestone by the end; however, while the title tells us that this is a story of becoming “Crimson,” the reader eventually understands that truly becoming oneself is not something that can happen over the course of 20, 30, or 40 years. Every important experience will add to the pile, all will continue to make up a person, and CeCe is sure to have more firsts as she begins a new relationship and starts out on a life separate from her mother. She—we all—will always be in the process of becoming, and isn’t that exciting?
Natalie Sypolt lives and writes in West Virginia. She received an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University in 2005 and is currently an Assistant Professor at Pierpont Community and Technical College. She also teaches community creative writing classes and workshops. Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Switchback, r.kv.r.y., Ardor Literary Magazine, Superstition Review, Paste, Willow Springs Review, and The Kenyon Review Online, among others. Natalie is the winner of the Glimmer Train New Writers Contest and the Betty Gabehart Prize. She is also an active book reviewer whose work has appeared in Los Angeles Review, Fjords Review, Paste, Shenandoah, Harpur Palate, and Mid American Review. Additionally, Natalieserves as a literary editor for the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, is the High School Workshop Coordinator for the West Virginia Writers Workshop at WVU, and is co-host of SummerBooks: A literary podcast.