Today’s story is Aimee Bender’s “Call My Name” from her collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. And wow, is this a good story! Its narrator is a woman – an heir to an adhesive wall hook empire, in fact – who starts the story riding on the subway:
I’m spending the afternoon auditioning men. They don’t know it. It’s a secret audition, come as you are.
“No really,” I say to the beanpole man on the Muni with eyes so tired you can see death lounging in them already, “do you prefer cats or dogs?”
I can’t tell you exactly what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when it happens. I want to be breathless and weak, crumpled by the entrance of another person inside my soul. I want to be violated by insight.
This self-described beautiful woman “interviews” potential lovers and eventually “chooses” a reluctant and seemingly harmless man, following him and goading him into engaging with her, but being somewhat confusingly rebuffed in her sexual advances: she lets herself be bound to a chair, but he just wants to watch TV, which frustrates her no end.
There are a few reasons why this story works so well. One is the way that it sets up but only partially fulfils expectations – events always seem to take a slightly twisted turn, surprising but not improbable, and on the edge of titillation – a fine line to tread. Similarly the main character of the “manic pixie girl” (as mentioned in an analysis of the piece here) is recognisably relatable (I’m sure most of us secretly would like to be as excited by life and untethered by obligation as her), yet almost offered up as an object of ridicule, her own unrealistic hopes thwarted despite her wealth and privilege. And as you can tell from the excerpt above, the metaphors and turns of phrase in the text are deliciously wonderful.
Literary Fruit rating: 9 out of 10.