The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

I am currently taking a creative writing class and Aimee Bender’s collection of short stories was the last selection of short stories we read. The whole semester we were reading realism type works and while it is beneficial to read those kind of works Aimee Bender’s works were a breath of fresh air. I love the bizarreness of Bender’s stories and how they explore emotional issues everyone deals with in a bizarre way.

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There were three sections in this selection of short stories and I had a favorite story out of every section.

Call My Name was my favorite because it was so shocking. The Remember was a little weird, in a good way, but the content of Call My Name was so interesting. It was a shock after reading such authors as Raymond Carver, and I loved every minute I spent reading that story. It spoke to a human need we all feel and that is to be wanted. This girl clearly wasn’t wanted by her father and so she searched for attention in other men. When she was confronted with the fact that she couldn’t get whatever she wanted she was refreshed in a weird way. The first man to refuse her showed her that money can’t buy her affection and only a real relationship will satisfy that need inside of her.

Marzipan made me laugh out loud and cry at the same time. A classmate of mine had a really good insight into the story-since it was told from the perspective of the child all the “weird” events were just how the child was seeing the situation. The fact that her mother gave birth to her grandmother could mean that her mother couldn’t let her own mother go, or the baby miscarried and that reminded her of the death of her own mother. The hole in the father was a metaphysical hole that represented the loss of his father. It reminded me a little of Benjamin Button and babies being born old.

The Bowl made some of my classmates a little frustrated because they read somewhere that Bender saw a bowl and wanted to write a story about it and then she turned it into this deep story about depression and taking things for granted. It’s a lot like how I felt when I realized I was growing up-for so long I had wanted to be an adult and then when I was one I realized how much I wanted my childhood back. I wanted to go back and enjoy it some more before I was awakened into the real world of work, bills, alcohol, and the reality that my life is not how I saw it looking. The bowl was my childhood and when it was taken away I realized how amazing it really was and how I just saw it as something that would never leave me.

I love the short precise titles of Bender’s stories because they get to the heart of the story and while confusing at first really do speak to the content of the story.

The middle section wasn’t my favorite but I loved Quiet Please because while I’m not a sex addict or anything this sounds like something I would do if I found out my father had died. It’s all about making yourself feel something and I understand that very much-when you are so numb inside you have to do something radical to make yourself feel again. She ended up being put on display for all the world to see her pain but for a brief while she could have sex in the back room where no one would notice her and she could feel again.

The Healer by far was my favorite story out of this whole selection because I could spend pages talking about it. Two girls that cancel each other out and a third girl who wants to feel that different. I interpreted these two girls as lesbians and when they were younger it was cute but the Ice girl hardened her heart toward that part of herself and the Fire girl let it consume her. Other people in my class had different interpretations but whatever the relationship between these two girls was, the Ice girl didn’t want it to exist. She was Ice because she had hardened herself toward the world and despite the fact she helped people all they really wanted her for was her healing abilities. The fire girl wasn’t afraid to show herself to the world but people were afraid of her. I found the fact that they lived in a small town surrounded by hills and trees and the fact that no one left very interesting. It seemed to me small town America where you never left because you grow up there. Of course there are prejudices in small town America and that’s why the girls were like the way they were. Ice girl was the popular cheerleader and the Fire girl was the moody Emo girl and once upon a time they used to be friends but small town life changed them. I loved the point of view because that third girl was just like the fire and ice girls except she didn’t know what made her stand out. She wanted to stand out and admired the girls for doing it but she didn’t know what made her different so she tried to involve herself with the girls in hopes of making herself different as well. Of course it all backfired but what I found most moving about this story is that it was the Ice Girl that left and not the Fire Girl. I honestly thought it would be the fire girl that left because she was tired of being an outcast but it was the Ice Girl that left and I think that is because she was tired of being used and tired of being the Ice girl. It defined her in that small town and I think she wanted to be defined differently.

I must say the last story-the title story-The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, was slightly disappointing. I thought it was going to be about a girl who wore a flammable skirt and it didn’t burn her or something. However I did like this story and I don’t think my classmates appreciated it as much as I did. They were confused by the Flammable Skirt at the end but as someone who feels that they haven’t found their passion yet either I get what the girl in the story was feeling. When you find your passion you find yourself burning up inside and I think that is what the narrator was getting at. She hadn’t found her passion yet, in fact she was just a carrier for everyone else’s burdens. She truly wanted to know if that girl had found her passion yet because she hadn’t found hers.

Aimee Bender has inspired me to write a bizarre story and while I don’t think my story is quite up to the standard of Bender I find myself enjoying writing it. I am a more historical realistic writer which is odd because I am not a fan of realism but I have never written a story in which a mother gives birth to her mother. My stories contain ghosts but not deep psychological issues explored in bizarre ways. I cannot wait to get my hands on another Aimee Bender novel because I honestly cannot get enough of the bizarre.

-A

Entwined by Heather Dixon

I read this book in a day. I got it in the mail from Thriftbooks (check it out! Best book buying website ever!) sat down to read a few pages and before I knew it my day was gone and the book was finished.

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My favorite fairy tale growing up as a kid was the Twelve Dancing Princesses because the story was whimsical and fun. I couldn’t wait then to read Entwined and hear a modern take on a older fairy tale. Honestly I wish someone would make this book or just make a Twelve Dancing Princesses movie because the story could be amazing!

This book was not what I was expecting but then again I say that about a lot of books. The fairy tale I read led me to believe that the princesses were all the same age and clearly they couldn’t be. The story focuses on the eldest daughter Azalea, and her eleven sisters who are all named after flowers and are named alphabetically. They have the weirdest relationship with their father, which frustrated me all throughout the book because it was like the relationship didn’t even exist. Also they were extremely poor for being royalty but I guess parliament limited their power a long time ago so they were just naturally poor. I’ll admit there were some things I disagreed with in this book but the overall story is captivating.

The story is about the twelve princesses and starts out with their mother’s death. Azalea is holding her first yule ball as the eldest daughter and it is cut abruptly short with the death of her mother. The relationship with their father is almost nonexistent so while he has to go to the front lines of the war they are fighting the girls move on without him. They have to remain in mourning for exactly one year and that means no dancing. The twelve girls obviously live for dancing so when they discover a secret passage way that leads to a ballroom pavilion thing where they can dance to their hearts content they are overly happy. Keeper, the mysterious man who guards the pavilion is slightly creepy but handsome at the same time so the girls don’t question their decision. It’s only when their father comes back from the war and starts taking an interest in his daughters that things get complicated and Keeper turns more sinister. I don’t want to spoil the end of the book because I almost threw it across the room but as with all Fairy tales they live happily ever after.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

This book certainly was not what I expected it to be and I mean that in a good way. I thought this book was going to be about the story of Hosea but in a more modern setting and while it was about that it wasn’t in the way I expected.

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It isn’t the clear cut story of Hosea from the bible, rather it is Francine Rivers take on the story. It’s more than just the story of a prophet of God who was called to marry a prostitute. It’s the story of how God can take even the worst of us and still love us and make us into something beautiful.

The focus of this book isn’t on Michael Hosea it’s on his wife Angel, the girl who was raped at age eight, and spent the next ten years of her life as a prostitute. This story is compelling because Rivers doesn’t honey coat the bad things in fact she brings them into the light and isn’t afraid of talking about them. Angel did some things which I won’t say for spoiler reasons that I raised my eyebrows at and questioned why this would be a in a Christian book. It’s in here because we have all done things we are ashamed of and most certainly not proud of but God is willing to overlook that and love us all the same. This book is simply about Redeeming Love and the power of that love. While it is a great love story it’s more about the love story God has for his people and those that choose to believe in him. I loved this book and it opened my eyes to show me that despite all the things that I have done and am not proud of God is willing to overlook that if I can just come to him, confess and ask Him to use me how He sees fit.

I wasn’t sure how this book was going to end and many times I set the book down because I was angry and passionate about what was happening but Rivers pulled it together at the end. This is truly a story of Redeeming Love and if you are tired of the sex filled drama filled dime romances that fill the shelves at used book stores/sales then read this book. It is a genuine Romance that deals with the hard issues of marriage and doesn’t shy away from the facts. It’s perfect and it’s sweet and if you are struggling with accepting God’s love than read this book and realize he will love you no matter what.

Room by Emma Donoghue

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This book was not what I expected it to be. I didn’t know much about the book other than what I read on the back cover and what people talked about in my class before I read it. I thought it was going to be some kind of futuristic type thing or science fiction at the least but it was a very realistic novel about a young woman whom after being kidnapped and repeatably raped becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy. The story is told from the perspective of Jack and it’s very interesting because he is only five when this story is told. His whole life is Room (the small 12 by 12 (?) square they live in). I read this book as part of a class but it is a very interesting study of the relations between parent and child and more specifically mother and child. Jack clearly loves his ma but there are times I worry about Ma because of Jack’s behavior toward her. He gets angry quite easily and makes threatening remarks toward Ma. Honestly there are times I am angry at my own mother but never once did I wish her dead. I know a lot of Jack’s perspective is skewed because he has never lived outside of Room and Ma is about the only other human he knows but still his reactions were frighteningly violent sometimes. Also for being a child brought up with next to nothing he has an entitlement to him which is also fascinating. It could possibly stem from the fact he is the only person his Ma is there for so in his mind he is the only thing that matters or because of his genuine belief there is nothing else than Room. Jack believes the outside world doesn’t exist and that the shows on TV whether reality TV or cartoon are all fake. Overall it is a very interesting study of the relationship between mother and child. The climax came right at the end of the novel so there was little to no falling action which is how I think it should be. SPOILER ALERT! Jack and Ma escape from Room in about the middle of the novel and so a lot of people would assume that is the climax and everything that happens afterward is the falling action. In fact a lot of people in my class, myself included, thought the novel would end with Jack and Ma escaping. I watched an interview with Emma Donoghue and throughout the interview she talked about how this novel was inspired by a similar case but she used this novel to explore the relationship between a mother and a child. So while some people feel the climax should have the escape I don’t think it was. The climax  for me was when Jack finally said goodbye to Room. While the social problem of the novel is Ma and Jack’s relationship the real question or overarching problem is will Jack be able to let go of Room, the only world he has ever known? That is where the climax is because Jack is finally able to let go. He is finally ready to move on with life when throughout the entire novel he didn’t want to leave Room.

Overall this is a really fascinating novel because it’s not only told from the perspective of a five year old, but it explores some interesting social issues.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

I appreciated this book a lot because it talked about the kind of people I grew up with. I didn’t grow up in Michigan but from Campbell’s description of the people, southern Missouri isn’t so different. I grew up with meth addicts, drunks and dead bodies being found in the woods near my home. I really connected with these characters and their way of life. These stories aren’t easy to read and in a way all of them are about people being salvage. The way of life in the rust belt is disappearing because people are moving to the cities to find jobs to be able to support their lifestyle. Gone are the days of surviving off the land or what you make. Life is about advancing up in the corporate ladder and making sure every luxury is paid for.

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I grew up with people who were living paycheck to paycheck (my family included) and Campbell’s stories felt very real to me. My two favorite stories was the first story and “Family Reunion”. A girl using her body for meth and another girl shooting her uncle’s penis off did not sound that all out there to me. I rode the bus into town everyday with kids who looked sad and tired. I didn’t know their home lives but I could guess and it wasn’t a pretty picture. I saw a meth addict in the grocery store once and she always stuck with me because of how awful she looked. She had pock marks, scratches all over her arms, and her hair was stringy and gross. She was shaking and I was genuinely scared of her because I didn’t know at the time what was wrong with her. Looking back now I know what was wrong and after seeing pictures of parents overdosing in cars with their child in the backseat my heart breaks for these people. Meth is a serious problem and while popular society glamorizes it with TV shows such as Breaking Bad, it is a real problem and it hurts hundreds of kids every day.

These stories made me laugh, cry and reflect on my life in Southern Missouri. I connected with them on a very real level and I think Campbell captured the essence of what life is like in the Rust Belt and essentially midwest.

The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien Book Review

First of all Tim O’Brien if you ever read this I just want to politely tell you to “Go up a dark alley and yell fish” (props to whomever can name that movie) because while I liked your book immensely the way you tug at my heart strings is just cruel. Don’t you dare dedicate your book to fallen soldiers who don’t even exist. I get that most often times true war stories aren’t listened to because they aren’t interesting enough, so you had your reasons but honestly when I found out this book was fiction I was very angry. I thought it was embellished non-fiction like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series Little House on the Prairie-real life events just not remembered exactly as they were.

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Now that my little rant is over I genuinely loved reading this book, despite it not being something I would have picked up on my own and read (had to read it for class). I am not a huge fan of war stories, mainly because that is just not something I am interested in. These stories are intense, beautifully written and bring the war to life in such a way I can’t help but be interested and invented in these characters. That fine line between reality and fiction is what brought these stories to life and I can understand why O’Brien chose to write them this way. No one wants to hear actual war stories because they aren’t so nice sometimes nor exciting (I knew an elderly man who spent the entire world war II trying to find the naval ship he was supposed to be on. There was a mixup with the paperwork and he was sent to the Army instead of the Navy so he spent his war career just trying to go where he was supposed to originally be). My favorite thing about this book is the narrator is rarely seen and when he is spoken about nobody remembers who he is. It speaks to what O’Brien is trying to accomplish with his book-the focus should be on the men who lost their lives and what the war did to them.

I honestly don’t know if I would read another of O’Brien’s works but if I had to I wouldn’t begrudge doing it.