By Emma Bloom
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender, published in 1998, is a diverse collection of short stories that views love through different lenses: of a wife and a husband who was injured in the war, the ups and downs of young love, lasting love in elderly couples, and the struggle of a relationship under peculiar circumstances. The story itself is not the typical take on the classic love story, instead focusing on the difficult truths of each relationship, the reality of each one all the while with an element of the bizarre.
Aimee Bender’s works have been nationally recognized, being published in GQ, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and heard in This American Life. Her works earning credible awards, including the NY Times Notable Book award, SCIBA award, and the LA Times pick of the year. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt would be best suited for high school students and above, particularly those who are interested in romance stories.
A particular aspect of writing that Bender used often was the concept of the “crooked picture,” where the story begins in the middle of an event or dialogue, leaving the reader questioning and curious. The first line of the collection was from the story “The Rememberer,” and began with “my lover is experiencing reverse evolution.” The reader does not know why and what is causing this “reverse evolution” or even what exactly that could be in this case, pulling the reader deeper into the story with interest. Or the way Bender chose to open the short story “Skinless” with “Renny’s phone privileges being revoked when they discovered a swastika carved into his headboard.” Topics like these are not a typical way to begin and would most likely take the reader by surprise.
I deeply enjoyed Bender’s interpretation of love, where it wasn’t perfect and there was always a way that the lovers were different from each other. She was blunt in the reality and detail of each relationship but romanticized the uniqueness and its eccentricates.