Reading Ilana Stanger-Ross's debut novel Sima's Undergarments for Women is an exercise in anxiety, primarily because the reader is so thoroughly immersed in main character Sima Goldner's uncertain, self-conscious thoughts. Sima is one of the most skillfully developed characters to enter the world of fiction in a long time. Stanger-Ross writes in third-person narrative, but the novel's voice is so completely Sima's that it seems as though she narrates herself. The marginal distance third-person point of view gives the author allows the reader to see Sima both as she sees herself and as others see her.
Sima is timid is many ways, but she has found her place in her own shop -- Sima's Undergarments for Women -- located in the basement of the Brooklyn home where she and husband Lev reside. She floats along, slightly dissatisfied but unwilling to change, for many years -- until a young Israeli woman enters her store and flips Sima's world upside down. For childless Sima, the energetic Timna is a breath of fresh air. The beautiful girl offers Sima a chance to care for and enjoy a young person. However, Timna is an independent spirit with dreams and a life of her own, as well as a mother back in Israel. The lessons Sima learns through their friendship cross over into Sima's relationship with her husband, and ultimately her ability to love -- even to love herself.
Stanger-Ross delves deep into Sima's psyche, as well as the history of her marriage, in this novel. It is not an action-packed or plot-driven book, but rather a character study expertly executed. Some reviewers have expressed dismay at the lack of any one climatic moment in the novel, but in my view it proceeded exactly as it should have -- with the primary focus on Sima, rather than on any revelations surrounding Timna. While Timna provides the perfect foil to Sima's character, actions on her part are purely secondary to the interior thoughts and decisions made by Sima.
Ilana Stanger-Ross writes her own blog discussing all things Sima, as well as her recent completion of midwifery school.
In this video, Ilana Stanger-Ross shows readers around Brooklyn and discusses her inspiration for the novel: