Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender
|Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender|
|Genre: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Another collection of Aimee Bender short stories that are set in cookie, slightly off-kilter worlds combining the odd with language that makes it seem familiar. A clever trick executed by a clever word-artist.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: March 2013|
|Publisher: Windmill Books|
|External links: Author's website|
In this collection we're shown the reaction of ten men with terminal illness prognoses, a large man purchasing a very unusual pet and the case of a hard-done-by boyfriend. There are also delights like the shop that sells words crafted into what they read, a boy with keys instead of fingers and the beautifully touching tale of the pumpkin-headed mother who gives birth to an iron-headed baby. No, this isn't your average collection of predictable short stories; these are Aimee Bender short stories.
This, writer Aimee Bender's third short story collection, was published in the States in 2005, prior to her novel. Here in the UK they arrived the other way around but that's unimportant as these are short stories well worth the wait. The author exemplifies the gift of making each word and phrase count. Jinx for instance is a touching narration on the transience of youth and things lost during the growing up process using only eight pages.
The other striking thing is that, as with the stories of Tania Hershman, the odd becomes acceptable, ensuring we have no trouble suspending belief. Going back to the pumpkin-heads in Ironhead for a moment, we have no problem with the thought that there are pumpkin-headed people living in a human-headed world. It is definitely peculiar at first, but we begin to empathise and with that comes acceptance. We feel the pumpkin parents' pride and protectiveness towards their non-conforming son. Why? I'm sure those a lot more qualified than I could write books on possible reasons, but I think it's because we recognise and grasp the exceptionally communicated emotions. It's immaterial that these aren't beings from our experience, we still become attached (as, indeed, with the potato children in Dearth).
By the way, please don't shy away from I Will Pick Out Your Ribs (With My Teeth). The title is cleverly constructed and a little deceptive: there's no gore, but there is a very good twist at the end.
In some cases the meaning behind these prose-poem-like tales is evident on first reading, as in Debbieland where the undercurrents of control stand out. Contrastingly, though, in other stories will feel as if there should be a meaning but it's more elusive, leaving us with feelings and hunches. However this really doesn't matter as the language and phrasing is so pictorial in the mind, despite being so concise on the eyes, we realise that we'll return to read and re-read them beyond the moment when full understanding is reached. It's that kind of book.
If you enjoy this type of enigma wrapped in a story as I do, then you'll also enjoy My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions by Tania Hershman. If you want to read some more Aimee Bender, we also heartily recommend her novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.
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