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This is a formidable collection of sixteen short stories by Aimee Bender split into three sections, culminating in the title one, “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt”.

Intricate worlds are unravelled where nothing is what it seems and desire has many faces – a bowl mistakenly gifted intensifies existing introspection, a runaway teenager holds a woman’s life in his hands, a robber and his girl steal gemstone rings until the gems start to leak. And Aimee’s style is fantastical, both her characters and sentences bristling, alive.

In “The Rememberer”, a woman watches, helpless, as her boyfriend reverts to the origin of the species, the first lines captivate with amusing brevity:

My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month and now he’s a sea turtle.

In “Quiet Please”, a librarian sates her sudden lust by fucking men the day her father dies. When one parades her through the library on a couch, she reaches for the mural of fairies on the ceiling to give the fairy missing a mouth “a big wide dancing smile.” The next day, “an hour before her father is put into the ground”, she notes:

…the laughing ones now pull along one fairy with purple eyes, who is clearly dancing against her will, dragged along with the circle, her mouth wide open and screaming.

In “The Healer”, two girls attempt friendship at school – one has a hand of fire, the other has ice – finding they cancel each other out upon contact:

Their hands dissolved into regular flesh – exit mutant, enter normal. The fire girl panicked and let go, finding that her fire reblazed right away, while the ice spun back fast around the other girl’s fingers like a cold glass turban.

Lives on tilt, these encounters, while inhabiting elsewhere, are grounded in the visceral – love, fear, death, hope, what is real and what is less so. Aimee has another collection, Wilful Creatures, which is also on my wish list, because the magic is here, and there.

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