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Willful Creatures: Storiesby Aimee Bender
Funny, tender, very often bracing and constantly surprising, Aimee Bender... Oh, forget the pretense: Aimee Bender writes like no one else, and I love her for it. On the surface, most of the stories in Willful Creatures shouldn't ring true at all — a lonely man keeps a tiny man for a pet; a woman makes sculptures out of words and noble gases — and yet each delivers an emotional impact rarely matched in short fiction. Think of a roller coaster: Bender's magical flourishes crank you up, up, up along the tracks until, suddenly, break-necking back toward reality, a single line tears your stomach out. It's addictive. (Hence the only complaint commonly aimed at Bender: Write faster! Publish more!) Mundane and surreal, fantastic and familiar, one ride leaves you clamoring for the next.
"Willful Creatures achieves what many story collections do not: it leaves an emotional impression that transcends the individual stories, but does not erase them. This may explain why her readers are so devoted: we feel as though we've witnessed the miraculous rebirth of the short story....Bender's stories are gothic fiction in which mutation and deformity are the resurrection of hope. Amen." Alexis M. Smith, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Aimee Bender has created a series of glisteningly weird miniatures....Willful Creatures has such precise detail, such tangible feeling, that it is hard to put down. And at best, Bender's vision, with its dark, plucky humor and touches of the bizarre, has the power to make us cringe for our own world, with its many emotional mishaps and moral failings." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
With her singular mix of surrealism, musical prose, and keenly felt emotions, Aimee Bender has gained a passionate following among readers and critics. The San Francisco Chronicle greeted her first story collection with rapturous praise, declaring, "Once in a while a writer comes along who makes you grateful for the very existence of language." Her debut novel was called "as light as a zephyr and unique as a snowflake" (The Washington Post), "a seductively smart read" (Glamour), and "surreal, edgy, and endearing all at once" (USA Today).
Bender is a brilliant stylist, using language with the nimble grace of a magician. She conjures surreal worlds in which authentic emotion blooms. A woman's children may be potatoes, but the love she feels for them is heartbreakingly real. A boy with keys as fingers is seen not as a freak but as a hero. Bender infuses even inanimate objects with human warmth. Rendering grief, loneliness, hope, love, and happiness with exquisite subtlety and cleverness, Bender once again proves herself to be a masterful chronicler of the human condition.
"Fifteen stories bursting with heart and marvel make up this daringly original collection by Bender (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt). Nameless characters lend the tales an allegorical feel and heighten the emotional impact, as in one story's breathlessly cinematic love scene between a seducer (identified only by an expletive, 'the mother') and his prey ('the starlet'). With stories that turn on stark cruelty, Bender deftly forces uncomfortable identification with unsympathetic protagonists who torment the weak: like 'Debbieland' 's collective 'we' of predatory girls, and the man in 'End of the Line' who purchases a miniature man as a pet and tortures him. Elsewhere, she evokes tender relationships with a balance of earthy heartbreak and otherworldly strangeness. In 'Dearth,' the sudden appearance of seven potato-children forces the solitary protagonist into messy motherhood; in 'Ironhead,' a pumpkin-headed couple grieves for their dead child, whose heavy head, literally a clothes iron, kills him with its debilitating weight; in 'The Leading Man,' a boy with key-shaped fingers wishes only to unlock the secret of his father's wartime trauma. Bender's surrealism is never gratuitous in the fantastical yet truthful stories of this singular collection. Agent, Henry Dunow. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"To curl up with an Aimee Bender story is to thank heaven you ever learned to read in the first place....What a treat to spend 15 stories in Bender's vast and wonderfully unhinged imagination. (Grade: A)" Jessica Shaw, Entertainment Weekly
"With clear, crisp writing, Bender's stories resonate long after the final page is turned in this remarkable collection." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Second story collection from a keen stylist intent on rewriting the grim fable of modern life....A handful of real moments, presented with bite and wit." Kirkus Reviews
"I am a long-standing, passionate fan of Aimee Bender's stories. Her images explode, her words ignite. Watching her imagination catch fire remains a sustaining joy in my readerly life." Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones
"Lyrical and lovely, Bender's prose is also matter-of-fact and direct. She can turn a phrase that takes your breath away....
"Bender's stories...range in length and voice, floating in the ethereal space between naturalism and magic realism....This collection moves along effortlessly, though you will linger in the 'what' it reveals." San Francisco Chronicle
"[Bender's stories] are often funny, sometimes dangerous and always strange....None of these stories is longer than a lunch-hour read. Most you could wolf in a coffee break. But they stick with you. They are not realistic, but they are oddly real." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"[A] truly original voice deserving our full and closest attention. Her work soars, allowing readers to view life in a wholly new way. Willful Creatures is an essential work that should be required reading for any who delight in deft prose and truly empathetic portraits of the human condition." Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
"This collection again demonstrates Bender's edgy and brilliant storytelling gifts....The weirdness of Bender's well-crafted stories and their spectacle of human emotion will captivate readers' imaginations, hearts, and souls. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Bender creates contemporary fairy tales, cushioned by goofy humor and a deep tenderness for her characters, that aren't always as dark or as sinister as they initially appear." Joy Press, the New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Aimee Bender is the author of the short story collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own. Her stories have appeared in Granta, GQ, Harper's, The Paris Review, and others, as well as heard on PRI's This American Life. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
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