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

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