“I will never die, thought the cake to itself, in even simpler terms, as cakes did not have sophisticated use of language.”
I have been exploring short story collections more frequently in recent weeks. I used to think that I didn’t like them, but when I am in the right mood it is nice to have those quick bursts of creativity and emotion that can cover the realm of an entire novel in just a few pages. I think a short story is good when it makes me care about the characters by the end even though I’ve barely gotten to know them.
I wanted to read some of Aimee Bender’s stories after a recommendation from a friend, and this was the only one of her collections available at the library the last time I was there. This is actually her most recent book of short stories and the first that I’ve ever read. My first impression as I got through many of the stories was that they were… weird. But that’s not necessarily bad. Some of them I did think were awful. But some for me really struck that wonderful balance I always want to find in good magical realism. A lot of the stories were reminiscent of Gaiman to me in many ways but I think that Bender’s were a bit more real than magic and kind of a bit more depressing to me. Many stories here were also very sexual, but I thought that everything of that nature was well-written, except the first story Appleless. I didn’t see the point to that one at all.
Most of my favorites within the book were mentioned in the cover description: “A woman plays out a prostitution fantasy with her husband and then finds she cannot go back to her old sex life” (The Red Ribbon); “Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds” (Tiger Mending); “A company of tailors endeavors to capture the colors of the sun, moon, and sky” (The Color Master). In those latter two I felt that Bender’s true writing skills really came out. I mean: “That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel a little less alone. This is why everyone who eats a Whopper leaves a little more depressed than they were when they came in” – just beautiful – this is from Tiger Mending where the narrator manages a Burger King and her sister is a seamstress. I also really liked the story Americca, which describes a family that becomes a victim of “reverse robbery” – finding weird/random things in their house that no one in the family has purchased.
I am rating The Color Master 3 stars. Although there were for sure some standout stories in this collection, many of them also left me feeling a little unsatisfied and… violated? I think that the description that I see floating around in other Bender reviews as “fairy tales for adults” is really accurate because there are not many happy endings to be found here. I’m not sure that I will read Bender’s other works but I’m not completely ruling them out either.