Ilana Stanger-Ross' Sima's Undergarments for Women is the story of Sima, a 60-ish woman who owns a lingerie shop in Brooklyn in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Her shop is a gathering place for neighborhood women who are making transitions, because, if you think about it, female transitions are often accompanied by the need for new underwear: adolescence, a wedding, pregnancy, divorce, weight gain or loss.
Sima is herself in transition to retirement, and she is knocked off her stride by the entrance of another transitional figure, a young Israeli woman Timna, who takes a job in the shop.
The relationship between Sima and Timna is really complex and painful. Sima has never come to terms with her failure to have children, and the confusingly maternal urges that Timna stirs up in Sima bring on a personal crisis for Sima. Timna, meanwhile, has no desire to be mothered by Sima, yet she clearly forms an attachment to Sima, despite her efforts not to.
Stanger-Ross is a good, careful writer, and everything in the story (neighborhood, relationships, character development) is well done, but I still had a hard time enjoying the book. Both Sima and Timna are difficult to like, for different reasons, and I often grew impatient with Sima, especially. The claustrophobic atmosphere of Sima's basement shop (where everyone knows everyone else's business and feels free to comment on it) gave me the heebie jeebies. I prefer to buy my underwear in the anonymity of a department store, and now I know why.