Reviews > Published on June 11th, 2014

Bookshots: 'Inside Madeleine' by Paula Bomer

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Inside Madeleine

Who wrote it?

These stories, these girls, will stick with me for a long time...even if I want to forget them.

Paula Bomer, author of the critically-acclaimed short story collection, Nine Months.

Plot in a box:

It's a collection of short stories centered around young women living difficult lives, making bad decisions, and seeking to eke out an existence in a world that's inhospitable to them.

Read this if you liked:

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison; Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Invent a new title for this book:

Bad Decision Baby

Meet the book's lead(s):

They are all young women, ranging from pre- to slightly-post-pubescent. Their names are generic, every-woman names: Maggie, Polly, Ruthie, Maddy, Melissa. Some are too skinny; some are too fat. All are downtrodden, sad, living lives I wish no one had to live...but I know all too often women do.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

Pick an angst-ridden young woman in Hollywood right now, and she'll fit in quite nicely here. Shailene Woodley comes immediately to mind, but that's perhaps because she's currently ubiquitous. Elle Fanning would do well. So would a younger Anna Paquin (pre-True Blood of course...).

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The settings for the stories range a bit, though they all have a launchpad of South Bend, Indiana, in the late 70s, early 80s. No, I wouldn't want to live there. It's described as a very grim, very grey place, with schools that are too big and girls that are too self-absorbed.

What's your favorite sentence?

I can never choose just one. Sorry. This is from the first story in the collection, "Eye Socket Girls."

Liquids pump into our bodies through plastic tubing, adding pounds to our emaciated frames. We don't like the pounds. We look voraciously at one another. We envy the protruding bones of someone who is that much closer to not being here at all.

The Verdict:

Inside Madeleine, the sophomore short story collection of Paula Bomer, is a difficult read. Throughout the book, Bomer takes her readers into devastating worlds, worlds populated by young women seeking (and failing to find) power in all the wrong places. One seeks power in controlling every morsel of food she eats ("Eye Socket Girls," easily the most haunting and my favorite story of the collection). Another seeks power in a thug-like boyfriend, stealing from the one person who offered her help when she needed it ("Down the Alley"). Still another seeks power in her own vagina, fucking her way through life, obsessing over how much she can fit "up there" ("Inside Madeleine").

"I could put you inside of me, I could eat you up," she muses, while staring at a nearby schoolboy. 

That's the kind of power these girls seek.

The thing is: none of them find it. This is a melancholy group of stories, a cautionary tale for a mom like me, a mom with a little girl who's years off from making decisions like these but who could already be on the wrong path. (God, I hope my daughter's not on a path like these girls...) For these are girls who hurt each other ("Reading to the Blind Girl" was particularly painful in that regard) and, mostly, themselves.

The stories come alive in setting and local color; they take you back in time a few decades, to lives before cell phones and laptops, when the main choice for a Friday night was going for a drive or to the ice skating rink. The language is fairly stark — not much flowery writing to be found, which I generally appreciate — and it matches the subject matter well. Sometimes the stories seem to end mid-thought, often leaving readers to wish they knew what happened next. I can't decide if I appreciate that or not. Though I don't require a neat, well-packaged ending, sometimes it would be nice to see a character through to some sort of conclusion.

I can't say if I liked this collection or not; I'm honestly not sure. But I do know these stories, these girls, will stick with me for a long time...even if I want to forget them.

About the author

Leah Rhyne is a Jersey girl who's lived in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Aliens, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah now writes horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets.

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