Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross
Sima’s Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross
Sima’s Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross was a book listed in a recent publishers catalogue that caught my attention - one that had a brief description in – “There are some life-long quests that all women have in common – meaningful work, true love, and a bra that doesn’t leave red marks on your skin”. There is not one woman who would disagree with that statement. And, I thought that a story that takes place in a Brooklyn bra shop had the potential to amuse. And it does.
We meet the owner of the shop, Sima, who has been selling bras and women’s lingere from her basement shop for many years. The shop is in Brooklyn, in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood – where the women, wigs in perfect order, “pushed strollers: single, double, triple; the older children trailing behind or rushing ahead.” Sima herself is not Orthodox but she has lived a long time in this neighborhood and she understands these women. It is her job to sell them the correct bra – for weddings, bar mitzvahs; from the first bra on a young teen, to bras for pregnant women and nursing mothers. She makes every woman she serves feel better about her body and herself.
Sima’s seamstress has just retired when a young Israeli woman comes in to shop – and stays to become the new seamstress. Timna is in the United States to work while her Israeli boyfriend finishes his military service in Israel. Timna has a beautiful young body – she is smashingly lovely – and she is a good seamstress and a very good saleswoman. When Timna tells them that Bra is just right – Sold!
We come to know Sima and Timna as the novel progresses. Sima is immediately attracted to Timna – she could be the child that Sima was never able to have. Timna, as much as she likes Sima, has left home – and her mother - and she is not looking for anyone to fill that role. Timna enjoys the shop and does become close to Sima and her husband, Lev. Timna attends Sima’s family gatherings, and while spending their days together, Sima and Timna share the stories of their lives. But Sima wants more. Even Sima knows that she is at risk of destroying the very nice relationship she already has with Timna by wanting to be more involved in her life, but she is compelled to the point of following her after work - almost losing the normal, lovely relationship that they have developed.
We see Timna only through Sima’s eyes – we know no more about her than Sima does. It is Sima who reveals herself to the reader, through her thoughts and words. We learn about how desperately Sima wanted children and why she has none – we see the intimate world of her marriage – and the life and marriage of Connie, Sima’s long time friend.
A word of warning – in case you have not already suspected it – this is definitely a “chick book” – there is way too much discussion about “women’s plumbing” for any man to come within a mile of this novel.
Author Ilana Stanger-Ross grew up in Brooklyn, but is now a midwifery student in Victoria at the University of British Columbia. I suspect her career will be fodder for future fiction.