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The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: Stories Paperback – August 17, 1999
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In conventional fiction, war heroes return home minus an arm or a leg--or, to take Hemingway's worst-case scenario, the family jewels. In Aimee Bender's deeply unconventional collection, however, an even more suggestive body part goes AWOL: "Steve returned from the war without his lips." The army doctors have temporarily replaced them with a plastic disc, which impairs his speech. Luckily, this doesn't prevent him and his wife from engaging in some slightly surrealistic sexual maneuvers: "That night in bed, he grazed the disc over her raised nipples like a UFO and the plastic was cool on her skin. It felt like they were in college and toying with desk items as sexual objects."
That same combo--sex and off-kilter surrealism--provides Bender with her modus operandi. In "Call My Name," for example, a young heiress tails a stranger back to his apartment, gets her dress sliced off, and then consents to be trussed to a chair while he watches a TV documentary about Mozart. "Quiet Please" features a libidinous librarian who takes on all, uh, comers in the back room. Bender isn't, it should be said, simply a purveyor of French postcards. Her prose is exquisitely shaped, and its singsong rhythms suggest something out of a wised-up, whacked-out fairy tale. Indeed, if the Brothers Grimm had been a little more attuned to the pleasure principle, their fables might have boasted at least a family resemblance to Aimee Bender's. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The wise, highly original 16 stories in Bender's debut collection take place at the intersection of fairy tale and everyday life, of hilarity and heartbreak. From the book's first sentence ("My lover is experiencing reverse evolution"), it's clear that this world is far from ordinary. As the lover in the story ("The Rememberer") moves from ape to sea turtle to salamander, the reader moves from startled dislocation to delight. After this strong opening, what follows is equally good and equally surprising. The plots range from the unexpected to the fantastic: a woman gives birth to her own mother; in an effort to drive away grief, a bereaved librarian seduces man after man in the library's back room; a mermaid and an imp enjoy a high-school romance; an orphaned boy develops an uncanny talent for finding lost objects. As Bender explores a spectrum of human relationships, her perfectly pitched, shapely writing blurs the lines between prose and poetry. While full of funny moments, these tales are neither slight nor glib. They recognize that to be human is to be immensely fragile, and their characters are always unmistakably human. In "What You Left in the Ditch," a woman whose husband has returned from the war without lips tells her teenage lover, "The most unbearable thing I think by far... is hope," yet hopeAthat isolation and grief are temporary, that love exists, that the ugly can be made beautifulAis what she and all the stories' bruised and lonely characters insist on. Bender's is a unique and compassionate voice, and her debut is a string of jewels. First serial to Granta, GQ and Story; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Admittedly, I had binged a few of the latter in an interim of reading the former, but after a few vids and jumping back into the book, I did find myself marveling at a similar feeling of being somewhere familiar yet just slightly off-putting, but in the best moments being able to follow and appreciate the logic. Bender's first collection is stunning for its movement, how a single sentence can move the story along in such surprising ways, how her characters never make predictable moves and thus feel even more human, even when donning backpacks made of stone or birthing their own mothers. Bender's worlds are just slightly off-kilter, which at first had me wondering if they needed to go farther, but stories like "The Healer," where one girl has a hand of fire and another of ice, pursues its own logic artfully to bring you somewhere that is utterly profound and not merely fairy tale-esque. Though I wasn't as much of a fan of stories like "Fugue" and "Dreaming in Polish," I was overall amazed at how the absurdity of her worlds become quickly traceable and those strange words and emotions are actually rolling off those lips. "Marzipan," "Quiet Please," the aforementioned "Healer" and the title story are all exquisite.