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An Invisible Sign of My Own: A Novel

Aimee Bender

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ISBN 10: 0385492243 / ISBN 13: 9780385492249
Published by Anchor, 2001
New Condition: New Soft cover
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Title: An Invisible Sign of My Own: A Novel

Publisher: Anchor

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition: New

About this title


Aimee Bender’s stunning debut collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, proved her to be one of the freshest voices in American fiction. Now, in her first novel, she builds on that early promise.

Mona Gray was ten when her father contracted a mysterious illness and she became a quitter, abandoning each of her talents just as pleasure became intense. The only thing she can’t stop doing is math: She knocks on wood, adds her steps, and multiplies people in the park against one another. When Mona begins teaching math to second-graders, she finds a ready audience. But the difficult and wonderful facts of life keep intruding. She finds herself drawn to the new science teacher, who has an unnerving way of seeing through her intricately built façade. Bender brilliantly directs her characters, giving them unexpected emotional depth and setting them in a calamitous world, both fancifully surreal and startlingly familiar.


Aimee Bender's funny, delicately shaded first novel is a constant delight, even at its most warped. An Invisible Sign of My Own tells the story of Mona Gray, a math wiz and a high school track star, whose ordinary childhood comes to pieces when her father is stricken with a mysterious illness. There doesn't seem to be a name for it, but he looks sort of gray and seems frail and unhappy. Whether there's anything really wrong with Mona's dad is unclear, but her fear that he will die, as well as his withdrawal from family life--no more vacations, no running practice with his daughter, no unplanned outings--triggers a corresponding withdrawal in her. Whenever she does well at anything, or starts to enjoy herself, she quits: piano class, dancing lessons, her first boyfriend, running.

I quit dessert to see if I could do it; of course I could; I quit breathing one evening until my lungs overruled; I quit touching my skin, sleeping with both hands under the pillow. When no one was home, I tied ropes around the piano, so that it would take me thirty minutes with scissors to get back to that minuet. Then I hid all the scissors.
Instead of working out her problems, Mona develops a habit of knocking on wood, and sometimes knocks for an hour before getting to sleep. Eating soap is her other dark indulgence: a surefire anti-aphrodisiac that she calls on whenever she feels sexually attracted to a man.

At 20, Mona is recruited to teach math at the local elementary school. To her surprise, she is a brilliant teacher, making addition and subtraction tangible to second graders with a game called Numbers and Materials, in which the students bring in natural or man-made objects that take the form of numbers. When 7-year-old Lisa Venus brings in a zero made of IV tubing from her dying mother's hospital room, Mona recognizes a kindred spirit. But she will have to be healthy herself to help Lisa resist her urge to take on her mother's illness out of grief and loyalty. The complicated connection between children and adults is the underlying theme of this big-hearted novel. However quirky and alarming Bender's methods may seem, An Invisible Sign of My Own is no darker than a fairy tale, and the witch--even if it's the witch within--is reliably vanquished in the end. --Regina Marler

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