Monday, September 12, 2011

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

Posted by Simcha 4:07 PM, under | 3 comments

I've never been a big reader of short stories but after listening to a review of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt on one of my podcasts I just had to read this book. The stories that the reviewer described just sounded so provocative and unusual that I needed to read them for myself, especially after he read the opening lines to several of the stories.

The Rememberer:

    My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don't know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It's been a month and now he's a sea turtle.

What You Left in the Ditch:

    Steven returned from the war without lips. This is quite a shock, said his wife Mary who has spent the last six months knitting sweaters and avoiding a certain grocery store where a certain young man worked and looked at her in that certain way. I expected lips. Dead or alive, but with lips.


    One week after his father died my father woke up with a whole in his stomach. It wasn't a small hole, it was a hole the size of a soccer ball and it went all the way through. You could see behind him like he was an enlarged peephole.
See what I mean?

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt turned out to be just as entertaining as I had expected and I read through it pretty quickly. This was largely because after finishing each story I just couldn't resist taking a peek at the next one and then, before I could stop myself, I'd have read through that one too. Most of the stories were also pretty short which made it tempting to just keep reading one after the other. And after reading the intriguing introductions I just had to know how the rest of the story would play out.

The problem was that while I enjoyed these magical and unique stories I didn't really understand what most of them were trying to say. I could feel the emotions of the characters- which fairly rolled of the pages- the anger, despair, loneliness (not too many happy stories here) and I sensed there was a message in each of them, but I couldn't grasp what it was. For that reason few of the stories really stuck with me after I had finished the book.

The one story that stood the most clearly in my mind was The Rememberer (quoted above) about a woman whose husband returns from the war without any lips. The woman's joy at having her husband back is mixed with anger at him for not coming back whole as well as with guilt at the new attraction she now feels to the young man at the supermarket, who does have lips.

    Oh- Mary, he said, G-d- I-missed-you-so-much. In-that-ditch, when- I-thought-of-you, I-saw-an-angel. His voice broke. I-saw-Mary, my-angel, in-this-house, with-these-bags. You-brought-me-back-home. He reached out his hand and fingers trickled down her arm.
    She kept her back to him and shoved tin cans into the cupboard. Maybe, she was thinking, if you'd concentrated better you'd still have lips. Maybe you're not supposed to think of your wife at the market while people are throwing bombs at you. Maybe you're supposed to protect certain body parts so she'll be happy when you come back.
There were also several stories that involved women using sex as a way to deal with their pain and loneliness and I found those a bit difficult to read. In Quiet Please a librarian propositions her patrons after finding out that her father has died. In Call My Name, a wealthy, well-dressed woman follows a strange man home hoping for sexual advances that never come.
The Girl in a Flammable Skirt definitely provided me with the kind of unique stories I was hoping for but I was kind of disappointed that, more often than not, I had no idea what the author had been trying to get at. While there were a couple of stores that made an impression on me most of them were too lacking in substance to remain in my mind for very long. Though for the short time that they were in my thoughts, I did enjoy the entertainment and color that they provided me with.


I am glad the stories entertained you. One never knows with short stories, then again you never know with books either ;)

Like the title, these stories sound one of a kind. I think I know what you mean about what was missing from them. Sorta flashy and unique but lacking in depth??

Blodeuedd: I've actually been reading a lot of short stories lately and I've really come to enjoy them.

StephanieD: Yeah, that sums it up pretty well, but the stories were still enjoyable and very creative.

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