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Esquire
Wednesday, September 7th, 2005


 

Willful Creatures: Stories

by Aimee Bender

The Wonderful Worlds of Aimee

A review by Anna Godbersen

Aimee Bender has created a series of glisteningly weird miniatures and strung them together as Willful Creatures. Taken together, these stories suggest a world like ours but off -- you will recognize the human cruelty and stupidity, but physical objects are governed by different rules. There is, for instance, the big man in "The End of the Line," who goes to the pet store and buys himself a little man in a cage and, because he is lonely, and somewhat personally unfulfilled, goes on to treat him more like a pet than a human being, which in fact he is, just a very small one. And then there is the boy of "The Leading Man," who was born with the usual number of fingers, although nine of them are also keys. He can open the door to his house, and the door to his family's safety deposit box, as well as a door in the Louvre, although what he really wants to do, while he's young and while there are still doors unknown and unopened, is understand his war-traumatized father. Bender has a talent for unbuckling words, as in "Motherfucker," which is about a man who only dates single mothers. And she also has a sharp eye in the way-we-live-now department; the narrator of "Off," for instance, observes at a party that, "at some inexplicable point in time, everybody woke up with identical taste. I see two matching sweaters and four similar handbags." 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.


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