Brilliant First Lines from Aimee Bender

girl in the flammable skirtJust finished The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a short story collection by Aimee Bender, one of my favorite writers.  She mostly writes surrealist, magic realist, and just plain weird stories, but due to the mysteries of bookstore shelving you can usually find her under (plain old) fiction instead of fantasy & science fiction.   Among her many talents is her knack for brilliant first lines. E.g.:

I’m spending the afternoon auditioning men.  They don’t know it.  This is a secret audition, come as you are. (“Call My Name,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

There was an imp that went to high school with stilts on so that no one would know he was an imp.  Of course he never wore shorts. (“Drunken Mimi,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

There were two mutant girls in the town:  one had a hand made of fire and the other had a hand made of ice.  Everyone else’s hands were normal.  The girls first met in elementary school and were friends for about three weeks.  Their parents were delighted; the mothers in particular spent hours on the phone describing over and over the shock of delivery day. (“The Healer,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

Ten men go to ten doctors.  All the doctors tell all the men that they only have two weeks left to live. (“Death Watch,” Willful Creatures)

At the party I make a goal and it is to kiss three men: one with black hair, one with red hair, the third blonde. Not necessarilly in that order. (“Off,” Willful Creatures)

So.  (An Invisible Sign of my Own)

Gardner Dozois (science fiction editor, guru, and Clarion Writers Workshop Instructor) says that in a good story by the first page you already should have established an interesting character(s), in an interesting setting, dealing with an interesting situation. Bender usually manages to do all those things in just one or two lines, and with an interesting voice to boot (and often with a laugh or two as well).  She seems to casually do that thing that all good fiction does – reveals the fantastic in the ordinary and the humanity of the extraordinary.  Put her on your must-read list.

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4 thoughts on “Brilliant First Lines from Aimee Bender

  1. I’ve never read any of her work before, but from those lines it looks like it’s my loss. I plan to pick up that book the next time I’m at the bookstore!

  2. I found her on a list of authors you should read if you like David Sedaris. I’ve already devoured The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and An Invisable Sign of my Own. Tomorrow I shall trek to the library and pick up The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Sadly the library does not have Willful Creatures. There is something deeply and profoundly human about her characters though in reality we’d call them all eccentric as can be.

  3. She definitely has a unique ability to capture humanity through the eccentric! Willful Creatures might be my favorite of her works so far – definitely worth tracking down. I’ve been debating whether to splurge for the Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake in hardcover – a trip to the Brooklyn Public Library may be just the ticket!

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