Paula Bomer’s collection of stories and a novella is fierce, funny and filthy. The author of “Baby” and “Nine Months” is not your people-pleasing fiction writer. Her prose is crisp and clear and propulsive but she never pauses to ask: is it pretty? Do you like me? Some of her characters may be doormats seeking and thwarting unconditional love but, as an author, Bomer is brave, often mortifyingly so. Some of these stories are so naked emotionally that they cry out to be covered up with a towel – but Bomer resists, documenting every stretch mark, every gooey sex act, every human hunger. The stories and novella are about adolescents and young women who screw, drink, smoke and suffer toward some sense of identity, and a final nugget of unexpected emotional truth, but they are never blamers. They are fat girls and slim, workers in halfway houses and inmates, college girls tied at the hip to the party keg and Friday night ice skaters slugging back peppermint schnapps, daddy’s girls and mommy’s enemies. They sometimes echo each other, circling geography in South Bend, Indiana, or Boston, Massachusetts, or the East Village of Manhattan, struggling with anorexia and love-drug addiction. My favorite story is called “Pussies,” about a doormat of a young college graduate, all angles and jangly limbs and drunk more often than not. Her relationship with a trust-fund fueled girlfriend goes south when an apartment building catches fire and she rescues the girl’s cats but in a desperate survivor’s way that alienates the vegan rich girl (but spares the animals). The Madeleine of the title, and main character in the novella that concludes the slim volume, is a Midwestern “Precious,” a fat girl whose folds of skin both fascinate her and protect her from a world that continually serves up rejection. These are not dainty stories to be read one at a time. Instead, binge-drink them for the shock value – and stay for the awe.
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