Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sima's Undergarments for Women

24. Sima's Undergarments for Women, by Ilana Stanger-Ross

In the basement of her Brooklyn home, Sima Goldner has for three decades run a lingerie shop. She has, in that time, struggled with infertility and the secret of her youth that caused it, a secret that she kept from her husband and which has, as a result, made her marriage as barren as her womb. She is something of an outsider, too, in the neighborhood, being a not-very-observant Jew in the Orthodox community of Boro Park.

Then a young Israeli woman enters her shop. Sima is strangely drawn to her, and, when asked, gives her a job. Sima's attraction to Timna is at first described in terms that can only be called erotic, but it soon becomes clear that, in her loneliness, she is treating the girl like the daughter she never had. She so desperately wants to be important to Timna, to be a part of her life outside the shop, that she actually begins to follow her, and to interfere in her personal life.

Stanger-Ross' narrative alternates between the present and Sima's past, with her history explaining her current life. But she gives us very little of Timna's life, past or present, and this results in an imbalance that damages the story. All the weight is on Sima, and Timna seems a stick figure. We get no real sense of what sort of a person Timna is, other than as someone to whom Sima reacts, and, as a result, we don't understand why Sima reacts to her in the manner that she does.

Stanger-Ross' writing does, however, show promise, particularly in those sections of the book delineating Sima's relationship with her husband, Lev, and the vignettes of her lingerie shop's customers, and I would certainly consider picking up future work of hers.


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