Short stories that will sear you, body and mind.
About Incendiary Girls by Kodi Scheer: Scheer’s debut story collection INCENDIARY GIRLS explores our baser instincts with vivid imagination and dark humor. With sharp and tender language, Scheer interrogates our expectations of reality, melding the surreal – visions of humans transforming into animals – with the emotions of everyday. In these stories, our bodies become strange and unfamiliar terrain, a medium for transformation. In “Fundamental Laws of Nature,” a doctor considers her legacy, both good and bad, when she discovers that her mother has been reincarnated as a thoroughbred mare. In the title story, a mischievous angel chronicles the remarkable life of a girl just beyond death’s reach.
In Scheer’s hands, empathy and attachment are illuminated by the absurdity of life. Inspired by her studies in medicine and science, INCENDIARY GIRLS is a reflection of the power of healing, with all of its magical twists (and will remind readers of Karen Russell’s and Hannah Tinti’s stories). When our bodies betray us, when we begin to feel our minds slip, how much can we embrace without going insane? How much can we detach ourselves before losing our humanity? Scheer’s stories grapple with these questions in each throbbing, choking, heartbreaking moment.
My two centsOf the body and mind, of the healthy and diseased, of the real and the imagined: the confluence of which makes up these eleven unusual short stories that only Scheer can concoct. This is one of the most innovative and imaginative books I've read in a long time! This short story collection is bizarre, surreal, odd, sometimes absurd, sometimes oddly disturbing ... but always unique and memorable.
I loved this short story collection because of:
Its unique subject matter. The subject matter is unique and not an area that is explored by short story writers. These are based off Scheer's experiences in the medical field. I've read mostly medical thrillers so I have never come across a treatment like this. Scheer explores the realms of medicine and science with a magical touch. She looks at the human body and the human psyche. She also has a strong focus on the woman.
An emotional, even visceral response. It's interesting what a rollercoaster ride these stories can be. They're disturbing and thought provoking; they're sweet and they're bittersweet; some are downright revolting and very dark; some are utterly absurd and silly and funny! The pictures Kodi Scheer paints and emotions she tugs ... just be prepared. Because I wasn't and I was pretty blown away by their effect!
If you've ever been in a hospital for a period of time, it is interesting to see the various viewpoints of those providing the care (doctors, nurses, aides), those receiving it (the patients), and the interaction between them.
No duds in this one. There are eleven stories in all, with each one looking into different facets of the body and mind. I'm summarizing some key themes and what struck me the most in some of them:
- Fundamental Laws of Nature - Ellen is convinced that her mother is reincarnated as the horse her daughter rides, which she oddly finds a small comfort as she discovers a disturbing lump in her breast.
- Transplant - With her new transplanted heart, Angela believes that her changing colouring and hair is a sign to become Muslim ... only to realize that the answer is so much more simpler.
- Miss Universe - This is a powerfully shocking metaphorical short story of jealousy, aptly taking place at a beauty pageant. All of three pages: Wow.
- Gross Anatomy - The cadaver this medical student is dissecting in class, follows her home. She carries on an ongoing conversation with the cadaver, revealing the truth about his life and death.
- When a Camel Breaks You Heart - An interracial love story gone awry, her boyfriend Mahir literally turns into a camel! What to do with a camel? Find out the sad ending.
- No Monsters Here - When her husband's body parts start appearing around the house, his wife takes it as a sign of the worst. Deals with the heartache and heartbreak of a wife with a husband at war.
- Salt of the Earth - A mysterious epidemic is causing and unusual type of havoc in a small "salt of the earth" town.
- Modern Medicine - Nurses are people too, just like their patients. A nurse narrates her need to self-medicate to deal with her day-to-day interactions with her patients ... and the aftermath.
- Primal Son - An absurdly touching story about parenthood and deciding what really matters. Warning: involves a gorilla suit.
- Ex-Utero - Know how the weirdest things can happen all together in one day? This is how a med student's night shift turns weird: the end of the world, a battered man, a pregnant man, and a male med student who snubs sex.
- Incendiary Girls - Reminds me of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in that Death is narrating. Death predicts that this young Armenian girl will die very young, but escapes death's clutches, against all odds, again and again, highlighting the resilience of the human race. A commentary of the violence and the tragedy of the Armenian genocide.
Cover love: Beautiful. But isn't the mare black (in the first short story)?
Verdict: One of my favourite short story collections with its unique and memorable stories of medicine, science, and the supernatural. If you love short stories and/or love something unique and off-the-wall, I highly recommend this. I look forward to more of Kodi Scheer's work and I rather expect to be blown away once again.
PS. I was pleasantly surprised to see that among those Scheer thanked at the end of her book is Kristiana Kahakauwila whose short story collection This is Paradise really made an impression on me.
About Kodi ScheerKodi Scheer teaches writing at the University of Michigan. For her work as a writer-in-residence at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, she was awarded the Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. Her stories have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Iowa review, and other publications.
Find out more on Kodi Scheer's website. Connect with her on Twitter.
Check out my Friday 56 & Book Beginnings post for an excerpt.
Check out the rest of the tour here.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Little A/New Harvest (April 8, 2014)