Paula Bomer's new story collection Inside Madeleine (Soho Press) takes place in hospitals, alleyways, boarding schools and halfway houses, but each story has the same boldness. Bomer approaches her subjects fearlessly and pulls no punches in telling their stories. Her tales are short, powerful, and complete in and of themselves—and will still leave her readers craving more.
The collection is highly focused on women, and pays particular attention to bodies — how we relate to them, how we shape them, how they shape us. The collection opens in an anorexia ward with the story "Eye Socket Girls." The titular novella follows the tumultuous life of an obese girl. And in between, the collection explores addiction, sexual assault, blindness, first love and more, all with an eye to how our bodies can trap us, isolate us, connect us, and set us free.
The women in the collection each have their own complicated relationship with their bodies and the things that come along with bodies — sex and food and the categories the world places us in. They are all troubled to some degree or other, and yet they largely resist labels like "strong" or "weak." The world of Bomer's stories isn't about strength or weakness; it's about damage, and its various, complicated forms.
"No one likes to see a young girl win," one of her narrators observes. "We're supposed to be nice, well-behaved things. Pliable, fearful things that cry a lot." Bomer's women are none of these things, but neither do they have their lives or themselves figured out. They struggle, they hurt, but in the midst of these things, they find ways to cope. And if they are to be saved, they will have to save themselves.
The collection is a powerhouse, full of unforgettable protagonists and bold narration. Bomer takes inside the minds and lives of her characters and refuses to back away from their selfishness or loneliness or fear. She makes us feel for them, makes us root for them in spite of their flaws, but she refuses to force happy endings where they don't belong. She delves into complex female realities and doesn't shy away from the pain. Her stories can be heartbreaking, terrifying, and thrilling — sometimes all at once — but above all they are an absolute must read.