Most Helpful First | Newest First
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally a short story collection which validates the genre itself,
I have always found the short story - or rather, the collection of short stories, to be a problematic venture. To a fast reader, one story is not enough for a reading session; yet a well-written story demands a pause for absorption. This is why possibly its best placement is within a magazine, as a single. With a short story collection, if it is the collected works of several writers, the difference in voices, one to another, is a bit like eating a spoonful of steamed fish, followed by a Yorkie Bar, followed by a raw egg, and so on. Or like a collection of literary slaps in the face.
When it comes to a collection by the same author, unless they are highly skilful, the reader quickly masters and absorbs the writer's literary tics and style, and starts each new story becoming surer and surer of what the author is doing and will do - a sense of déjà vu sets in, the sense of one story written again and again with marginal variation.
Rare is the author who masters this, who can work creatively WITH the form, again and again, but not be mastered, or stultified by it.
Preamble over - I do believe Aimee Bender IS that master. There is a deft, sure use of precise writing, there are (very different) narrative journeys, the volte-faces are satisfying, the characters individual, Inevitably there are some stories which are close to perfect, others a little less satisfying - but, rare is the novelist without the occasional phrase, character, or event that doesn't act like a sudden stumble, on the reader's eye and ear.
I was particularly enchanted by the tight little story about a boy from a clearly dysfunctional family, Faces, a story for all the world like a recounting of a case from Oliver Sachs The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, with its beautiful sting in the tail ending. This was a tale which seemed, once the reader sees it, to be about reality. But Bender masters whimsy and fantasy beautifully, too. Tiger Mending is a sweet and heart-string plucking story which could almost have come from one of Kipling's Just So Stories (Oxford World's Classics) - poor fraying tigers in need of help and repair, howling plaintively at their plight. Another story, The Red Ribbon, looks at the adult theme of sexual boredom within a marriage. In The Fake Nazi, is the contrast between those who deny responsibility for their crimes, and those who believe they are responsible for all crimes, even when they could not possibly have committed them - with a devious sting about the durability of our illusions about ourselves, for good or ill. Some fine psychological insights in this one.
The stories are divided into three sections, with the last section mainly moving away from the realistic, to magical or myth realism, particularly with some longer stories retelling traditional fairy or folk tales, including the title story, The Color Master, and the final, particularly potent re-telling of the story of a woman who marries an ogre, The Ogre's Wife. For this reader, Bender lays all her glittering skills out in that tale , for the reader's delectation and delight - finely crafted writing, narrative with dark twists and turns, a simple fairy tale uncovering the chasms beneath, wonderfully casual, unlaboured humour, and finally some irreverent, surprising juxtaposition of physics, myth and humour for the ending and beginning of the universe. I particularly liked the arrangement of this, as an end story, flipping me back to the placement of the first story, Appleless, which, though about other things, by choosing to be based around a woman who won't eat apples, but tastes of bread, inevitably suggests an untempted Eve, religious symbolisms about bread and Christianity, and a myth of the creation of humanity, which the last story closes, to begin again.
It is difficult to give an example of Bender's wonderful sense of humour, which has almost a cosmic joke property, as it is simply the placement of a phrase, almost as an aside, within the context of the story, which amuses, but the following, from The Ogre's Wife made me chortle whilst also going `ouch!':
"The ogre's wife disliked firmly only one aspect of her husband: his interest in eating the children of humans. It could've been me! She told him once in bed while he twirled and twisted her hair over his fingers"
And, from a more realistic story in Part 2, The Doctor and the Rabbi:
"Although he had initiated the conversation, he found the word "God" offensive, the same way he disliked it when people spoke about remodelling their kitchens"
A wonderful, assured collection, - if only all short story collections were as satisfying as this, and all short story writers could produce such a variation in style, genre and approach
I'm grateful to fellow reviewer FictionFan who assured me The Color Master came with a `Lady Fancifull will absolutely love this' label attached. She was so right!
I received this as a digital review copy from the publisher. This is one gifthorse that has all its teeth perfectly formed, thank you very much!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Favourite Author,
A delightful book of stories that willfully defies easy classification - some of them feature fairytale elements like in the opening and closing stories, "Appleless" and "The Devourings", the latter about a marriage between an ogre and a woman, with unexpected consequences.
Fantasy features strongly in the title story and "Tiger Mending", but the settings are variously believable and immediately accessible whether they are in Middle-class America or in medieval times.
The more realist fiction in this collection include "The Fake Nazi", which examines a court secretary's growing obsession with a man who suffers guilt for war crimes he did not commit, the bitterly funny shopping mall drama of hapless teenage girl who grapples with her position on the fringes of the 'in' crowd in "Lemonade", the more sober relationship of "The Doctor and the Rabbi", and the powerplay in gender/sexual relations in "On a Saturday Afternoon" and "The Red Ribbon". But even in these stories, Bender's playful wit and creative imagination slip in, especially in "Faces", where a mother is worried that her son's inability to tell his friends apart is symptomatic of a more pressing problem.
A very enjoyable collection that got me hooked from the first (and often startling) words in each story, I finished this book in two sittings, because it was impossible not to be lured into yet another one the moment you glimpse the next page.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touch of magic...,
The best description I can come up with for this collection of fifteen short stories is 'modern folk tales'. Ranging from more traditional tales of magic and monsters to very modern stories of sex and technology, if there is a common theme, it is of alienation and loneliness. Some of the stories are short and quirky, others longer and better developed. Sometimes humorous, sometimes moving, occasionally creepy, the stories are extremely well written and compellingly readable.
While the quality of the writing never wavers, I found the quality of the stories themselves to be somewhat variable. There were some that I felt hinted at a depth that didn't in fact exist, and others that seemed rather pointless and occasionally a little gratuitously distasteful. For instance, the first story Appleless is a beautifully written tale glossed over with an air of magic and mysticism, which in the end fails to disguise that it is fundamentally a rather unpleasant description of a rape. There are undertones in it of Eve and the fall from grace, but the story is too short to have developed these well.
However, to offset against the stories that don't quite work, there are a few that really stand out as very fine examples of the short story form. Here are a couple that I think would make this an enjoyable book for most fiction readers, and an essential read for those with a love of folk, faerie and magical realism...
The title story, The Color Master, is a prequel to Perrault's Donkeyskin, in which a king wishes to marry his daughter and orders three dresses for her, one the colour of the moon, one the colour of the sun and lastly one the colour of the sky. Bender's story takes us to the store where the dresses are made. The old Color Master is fading and has picked our narrator to succeed her. We see how the colours are selected and mixed, how the narrator learns to see the hidden colours within and how she gradually learns to put not just colour but emotions into the dresses she makes. It is a beautiful piece of writing, full of imagery and feeling, with a touch of humour, and complete within itself.
"...I did what the Color Master had asked, and went for blue, then black, and I was incredibly slow, but for one moment I felt something as I hovered over the bins of blue. Just a tug of guidance from the white of the dress that led my hand to the middle blue. It felt, for a second, like harmonizing in a choir, the moment when the voice sinks into the chord structure and the sound grows, becomes more layered and full than before. So that was the right choice."
The Devourings is a very traditional seeming tale of a human woman who marries a troll. When the troll accidentally eats their children, the woman must come to terms with her grief and decide whether she can stay with the troll. This is the most traditionally 'folk' of all the stories and has the most overt magic in it. Again the writing is wonderful, the fantastical nature of the story never being allowed to overwhelm the love at the heart of it. I found the ending of this tale (which is also the ending of the book) very special, but `twould be a major spoiler to describe it.
"As she unlaced her blouse, he touched fingertips to her trembling bare shoulders and explained in his low gravel that he only ate human beings he did not know. I know your name now, he murmured. I know your travels. You're safe."
The variability of the stories has made me swither over a rating for this book, but in the end the good stories are so good that they outweigh the weaker ones, and even these weaker ones are so well written that they can't fail to bring some pleasure. Hence, five stars and highly recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
STORIES (Audio CD)
Used & New from: £60.25