I was a huge fan of Aimee Bender’s novel, Particular Sadness of a Lemon Cake. Her use of the surreal as it seeps into everyday life is genuinely wonderful. Her short story collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt uses the same talent for speculative fiction. However, it isn’t achieved with as much panache here.
One thing that jumps out right away is how Aimee uses sex within her plots. Many of the stories feature sex as a replacement for showing of emotion. An example of this is in the meek librarian who receives bad news and decides the best course of action is to have sex with as many people as possible in the back room of the library. Here it is used with skill, as in a story about a rich girl who fantasises about sleeping with complete strangers and enters a man’s apartment and demands to be strapped to a chair and fucked. The outcome of that story is particularly intriguing.
But there are times when it falls flat. Such as when a soldier returns from war with no lips and Bender proceeds to depict the sex between him and his wife with an almost creepy “body horror” feel that feels like shock value for the sake of it.
But, it isn’t all just titillating dirty postcards from the authors mind. There are whimsical tales that take on a fairy-tale quality; this is highlighted in the tale of two girls – one who has a hand made of ice and one who has a hand made of fire. The moral and social aspects of that story are sublime and Bender drives home the idea of our fear of being different. However, amongst the brilliance there are some stories that seem vague for no apparent reason. I’m fine with authors giving me a snapshot from a life with no entrance or exit, but at times Aimee misses the mark and left me clueless as to what went on.
Published by Windmill. This book was kindly by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.