The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Aimee Bender

Cover art for The Girl in the Flammable SkirtThere’s really nothing bad I can possibly say about The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. I honestly really loved it. Bender strikes a delicate balance between whimsical, eccentric content and constrained, precise prose, juxtaposing magical realist fare against a clear, open voice, threaded with subtle humor.

These short, surreal tales are difficult to summarize, and they probably sound more fantastical in descriptions than they feel when you experience them. A woman watches her lover experience reverse evolution, transitioning from man, to ape, to sea turtle, and beyond; a mermaid and an imp hide out in high school; a girl follows her one night stand down a man hole; an orphaned boy develops a gift for finding lost things; a stolen ruby ring turns the ocean red.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt reminded me of a lot of things. A darker, starker, and more modern Francesca Lia Block; a more feminine George Saunders; a Melissa Bank who writes of people with giant holes through their abdomens, instead of people with cancer. But that’s not to say it isn’t original–Bender definitely stakes out her own spot on the post modern magical realist chick-lit-leaning continuum.

I’m looking forward to reading more of her stuff.

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray

Cover image for Skippy Dies by Paul MurrayFINALLY! I finished Skippy Dies! And I only had to renew it three times and pay $4.90 in late fees. I probably could have saved money by picking up a used copy, but frankly I don’t need my own; I won’t be reading this book again.

Not that it’s not good, exactly. It’s just, in some fundamental sense, not genuine. A bit too cute and a bit too ironic. Also, about 250 pages too long. This book says nothing in 661 pages that couldn’t have been said in 400. Easily. And possibly more compellingly.

Skippy Dies is a medley of interconnected narratives concerning the students and teachers of Seabrook College, a Catholic boy’s school in Dublin. At the center of the story is Daniel “Skippy” Juster, a sweet, nerdy 14-year-old with a troubled inner life and a huge crush on the beautiful Lori (a.k.a Frisbee girl), a student at the neighboring girls school. The complete strata of the high school universe is represented in frequently sympathetic, always slightly mocking terms–the geeky science nerd, the frustrated over-achiever, the bully/nemesis, the goofy friends, downtrodden teachers, and blow-hard faculty.

The book is skillfully constructed and structurally sound–a great technical achievement. Murray’s gift for dialog is on display throughout, especially in the alternately funny and earnest conversations between the 2nd year boys, and the Dickens-esque rants of the school’s acting principle, the “Dominator.” The work is also thematically strong–all the disparate elements are tied together in sometimes surprising ways, and the conclusions are all hard “earned,” as we used to say in writing workshop.

It may be this perfection that, in the end, leaves me cold. The whole thing was just too stylistically self-conscious to allow for the kind of absorption I, personally, look for as a reader. I just can’t handle this insipid hipster shit anymore. Even in a diluted Dubliner version.

Um…so, like, blog or what? On re-reading the Meg Cabot cannon instead of. Well. Everything.

I have been sick. I have addressed this issue by taking the world’s grossest vitamins and lying in bed reading eight (count them eight) Meg Cobot novels. That’s two whole series. Consecutively. I’m not even kidding.

What is it about illness that leaves you longing to read about 2000 pages of mindless crap about tall guys with great abs who fall inexplicably in love with obtuse and accident prone but otherwise average women, instead of, you know, Waverly (which is what I told people I was reading, when they asked–thank God (and my boyfriend) for the Kindle) or Skippy Dies, which I have seriously got to finish someday? Also, run-on sentences. The woman leaves us all babbling about guys asses in jeans and the complete unfairness of existence for, like, paragraphs on end. I’m even starting to write like Meg Cabot. Christ. How embarrassing.

But also, you know, if only. Because that woman is funny. And smart. And laughing all the way to the bank, probably. That hair cut in her author photo must have cost about $300, if you count in the highlights. And Harper isn’t exactly known for its air brushing.

Just for comparison, today, a bunch of third graders pointed out to me that I had eye liner up by my eyebrow (Although what they actually said say, “Ms Linds, do you have a black eye?”). At like, five in the afternoon. Which means I’d been going around like that all day. Guess I forgot the make-up remover last night. All of my neighbors and coworkers, and the people at Boulange, probably think I get beat. Plus, you know, the children.

The worst part is I can’t even legitimately argue that I’ve been using the excess brain power for writing, since my computer’s been out of commission for something like two weeks.

Funny story:

So, I’m sitting at the Church Street Cafe, typing away (on my novel no less), when all of a sudden a framed photo of an elderly Native American woman (I’m not even joking) jumps off the wall, right onto my table (and my shoulder) setting off a chain reaction that ends with a fresh 16 oz coffee flooding my key board.

That was a Tuesday. I spent the rest of the week waiting, hoping maybe some time to drain and the judicious application of a space heater might dry the thing out enough to, you know, at least flash me the screen of death or whatever. No such luck.

Those are some edits that are gone forever, let me tell you.

A week or so at the Apple Store seems to have resolved the issue, however. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing left that’s actually original to my computer at this point, except the power cord, since I had the screen replaced a while back due to a malfunction, and this most recent crisis resulted in a new case, keyboard, mouse, hard drive, optical drive, logic board, battery, and who knows what all.

I’m not saying I didn’t write all week. I’m just saying 20 notebook pages is like four and a half typed pages, which doesn’t exactly meet my goal…

But today was a good morning, writing-wise, at least. And there’s nothing to do, really, but move on, and hope my own characters don’t start to exhibit too strong a tendency toward angry make-out sessions and premature marriage proposals (i.e. an undue Cabot influence).