Incendiary Girls by Kodi Scheer is a collection of short stories linked thematically by the centrality of animals–horses, camels, gorillas–and the medical world–med school, hospitals, biology, illness. Often, these two threads are braided into the same story. Scheer seems to have gotten some of her expertise and ideas as a writer-in-residence at a cancer care center, which is something I’d like to know more about!
I really loved the first story in the book, “Fundamental Laws of Nature.” It layers and integrates three generations of mother-daughter relationships, cancer, and horseback riding. The protagonist is a doctor, which gives her more information than is probably good for her, but her scientific background doesn’t prevent her from believing in magical impossibilities. It is beautiful, sad and very strange in the best way.
The second story, “Transplant,” takes the theme of illness and wraps it with questions about faith and religion. It walked a line between realism and magical realism–which was it?–and like the story before it, was beautiful, sad and strange.
Those adjectives apply to almost every story in the book, in fact. There were a few that were a little too much about their ideas to feel like real, fully-formed stories, but even those only paled in comparison to the best stories.
The last story in the collection, the title story, really surprised me in that it was about the Armenian Genocide. It didn’t veer so far from the rest of the stories that it felt out of place in the book, but it was totally different; it was told from the point of view of an angel of death. It’s hard to find the right way to write about atrocities like this, but by taking a truly outsider perspective and then zooming in on the story of just one girl out of the many who suffered, it really worked.
I’ve had this book on my shelf for a few months and am so glad I picked it up to finally read. What better combination is there besides beautiful, sad and strange?