From the author of Nine Months, which Marcy Dermansky called “deliciously, dangerously rogue,” comes a powerful, daring new collection about the curious, complicated relationships girls have with their bodies, with other girls, and with boys.
A young anorexic girl comes to terms with her changing body while lying in the hospital; Polly deals with her unwelcome puberty whilst falling prey to peer pressure in the suspenseful vein of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”; Mary’s nice-girl attitude is challenged when she begins a job at a psych ward; two best friends discover the power of being beautiful and young; Madeleine discovers menstruation and the power that comes with it; a kinky sexual relationship turns into a dangerous obsession.
This eagerly awaited book seethes with alienation, lust and rage. It’s even more daring and accomplished than Bomer’s first collection, which Jonathan Franzen described as “like being attacked by a rabid dog — and feeling grateful for it. This is some of the rawest and most urgent writing I can remember encountering.”
Read an Excerpt
From that day on she felt inside herself with fascination. The lights off, the house asleep, she lay on her back, her legs spread eagle, groping underneath her pink, flannel nightie, past her round belly into herself. She put a finger and then two inside. She turned herself over, squatting on her knees, quietly, hunched up underneath her covers, her head and shoulders pressing against her pillow. She put two then three then four fingers inside. Afterward, in those moments before sleep takes over, her breath slowing down and steadying, she put her fingers to her face and smelled her earthy smell and licked her hand. I’m big, she thought. I’m big like a woman who’s had three children.
When she bathed, she practiced more. The water lubricating her, in went one finger then two then three. Soon her hand slid deftly in. She then put bars of soap and within weeks, shampoo bottles inside of herself. Up went her rubber ducky. Up went the washcloth. Her mother would knock impatiently on the door, saying, Maddy, get out of there, you’ll shrivel up like a prune. She left the bathroom damp and cold, water splashed on the floor, wet towels everywhere. How can you make such a mess, her mother asked. Madeleine ignored her, huffed and shut the door to her bedroom. She’d lie in bed, her skin dry and tight, her body cleaned and stretched. She pulled her pubic hairs up, tugging the still damp strands, twisting the course hair around her fingers, until with a quick burning sting, they came out.
She got infections. Ingrown pubic hairs. Yeast infections. Bladder infections. Pelvic inflammatory disease. Her mother took her to a gynecologist, sniffling, asking, what’s wrong with my girl? Are you having sex, Maddy, oh God, be careful. The doctor, a youngish man with an eye twitch asked, are you currently having sexual intercourse with anyone? She lay propped up on a table her feet in stirrups as he put in a speculum and said just relax, oh that’s great, and she thought yeah, you think that’s relaxed, you should see what I can fit up there and she closed her eyes as he prodded around inside of her and she imagined sucking him up there, where she had had the rubber ducky last night. She said I’m not having sex with anyone. He mother drove her home, sniffling. Maddy sat with her arms crossed across her chest, her thick bottom lip sticking out. She’d look out the car window and count the trees passing by. The doctor fit her with a diaphragm that she never used except sometimes late at night, by herself, pushing it in and out of herself before placing the saucer back into its plastic container. She put it in her drawer by her bed—but she knew her mother checked on it while she was at school, checked to see if the spermicidal jelly had been used.
She woke in the mornings tired, dark rings under her eyes, her fingers smelling that mossy smell. Her insides would be tender at times and she carried this tender feeling around with her at school like a secret trophy. In classes, she’d look at certain boys, boys who once seemed intimidating and powerful and she’d smile at them knowingly, thinking, I could put you inside of me, I could eat you up.
Once, when her parents had returned to bed early and she sat up with her older sister Amanda watching TV, she asked her how big she thought she was there.
You know, down there. How big are you?
You’re disgusting, Maddy.
Just tell me.
I don’t know.
Can you put a finger up there?
Of course I can. I can put a tampon up there.
Can you put all your fingers up there?
I wouldn’t know. Honestly, you are sick.
Shortly thereafter, her mother approached her bedside. Nervously, she discussed the facts of life with her daughter, explaining how the size of one’s vagina changes to accommodate different things. A man’s penis. A baby. Her dark eyes darted around the room. She wiped a greasy strand of hair from her forehead. She coughed and kissed her daughter goodnight on the forehead, her lips hard and tight.
Paula Bomer is publisher of Sententia Books and the editor of Sententia: A Literary Journal. Her writing has appeared in The Mississippi Review, Open City, Fiction, Nerve, and Best American Erotica. She is the author of Baby & Other Stories, published by Word Riot Press, as well as the novel Nine Months, published by Soho Press. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.