Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

Critical reception to Bender’s first short story collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (which includes “The Rememberer”) was very positive: The New York Times selected it as a Notable Book of 1998, and the Los Angeles Times named it one of the best works of fiction for that year as well. A reviewer from Publishers Weekly calls the collection “a string of jewels,” and Fiona Luis of the Boston Globe writes, “Each short story packs quite a hefty punch, and each should be savored.” Several reviewers single out “The Rememberer” for praise, including Margot Mifflin of Entertainment Weekly, who writes that Bender’s “account of a woman whose lover evolves backward [is] superbly imagined.”

More than one reviewer praises Bender’s ability to combine her bizarre and sometimes comic story lines with genuine, deeply felt emotion. This ability is evident in “The Rememberer”; Luis writes, “This bizarrely comic tale would be rib-splittingly funny save for the simple fact that Bender breaks your heart.” Praising this same skill in the collection as a whole, the reviewer from Publishers Weekly writes: “While full of funny moments, these tales are neither slight nor glib. They recognize that to be human is to be immensely fragile, and their characters are always unmistakably human.”

Some reviewers feel that while the debut is impressive, Bender’s relative inexperience as a writer sometimes shows. Mifflin writes, “Some of Bender’s forays into magical realism feel like collegiate exercises,” and Lisa Zeidner of the New York Times Book Review agrees: “The weakest [stories] juxtapose multiple plot lines—a standard creative-writing workshop ploy—without much more point than to showcase the skill of the juggler.” Both Mifflin’s and Zeidner’s overall reviews of the collection, however, are positive.

Many reviewers praise Bender’s singular style; the reviewer from Publishers Weekly writes, “Bender’s is a unique and compassionate voice,” and Christina Schwarz, in an Atlantic Monthly review of Bender’s later collection, Willful Creatures, says that Bender’s prose is “so animated it seems almost capable of writing itself,” and is “just plain fun to read.” Overall, the consensus seems to be that Bender’s talent as a writer is evident in these stories and that she has the potential to become even more skilled in the future.

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Essays and Criticism