The stories in The Girl with the Flammable Skirt (Doubleday, 1998) by Aimee Bender are light, humorous, and readable. They blend fantasy and magical realism. An example is “The Healer,” about two girls, one with a hand of ice and the other with a hand of fire. When they hold hands, their hands become normal. They are good friends in grammar school but drift apart in high school. One uses her strange impediment to do good deeds, while the other isolates herself in a shack on the outskirts of town. In another story, “Quiet Please,” a librarian has sex with every man she can find when she learns that her father has died. In another, “Dreaming in Polish,” a mother drags her daughter on endless visits to Holocaust museums. In “Legacy” a pregnant woman has an affair with a man pretending to be a hunchback in a castle. Many of these stories are whimsically erotic. All of them are subversive in subtle ways, especially concerning men and women and their socially prescribed gender roles. The stories were enjoyable, but most of them quickly faded as soon as I’d read them. At times the author seems profoundly nihilistic, insensitive to situations and people she describes. At other times she seems full of despairing outrage and helplessness. Why did Bender compose these stories? She’s been active as a short story writer and novelist since this first volume appeared, and it’s possible I’ll read one of her other books to see how her writing has developed. But at times as I read through these stories they seem bizarre exercises in self-indulgence.