Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Review: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

I should have known better. I don't typically like short stories. And I didn't like the full length novel of Bender's I read long ago either. Given both of these truths, I never should have read this collection. But I spent money on it once upon a time so I couldn't let it go without reading it. Sadly, neither my opinion of short stories nor of Bender's writing has changed after reading this.

The short stories in this collection are strange. Although missing the political critique of magical realism, they qualify in every other sense. The stories are set in the real world but are peppered with fantastical, grotesque, and deliberately weird situations, characters, or plot happenings. In Bender's fictional worlds, there are librarians who take male patrons into the staff room all day long for sex, children with unexplained powers in one hand, an ex-soldier missing his lips whose wife fantasizes about kissing people with lips, a man who is evolving backwards from man to ape on down to single celled organism, a father with a literal hole through his body and a mother who gives birth to her own deceased (now reanimated) mother, an unbalanced socialite who stalks men, a Jewish woman who runs a group for runaway teens being led around by a young neo-Nazi during a trust exercise, an imp and a mermaid discovering one another in high school, and more. Her characters are often mutants and their worlds are dark, off-kilter, and somehow still mundane. Many of the stories are overtly (and oddly) sexual. The writing is certainly competent but it lacked affect, the stories holding me at a remove and coming across as nothing so much as the answers to writing prompt exercises.

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