Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Color Master by Aimee Bender

"You can ruin anything if you focus at it."

"Men love to watch two women kiss, but how I love to watch two men. So clear in their focus. The amazing space created for me when there is nothing demanded or seen."

"...she steeps [her tea] with the kind of Zen patience that would make Buddhists sit up in envy and then breathe through their envy and then move past their envy."

"I put the anger in the dress the color of the sky. I put it in there so much I could hardly stand it - that she was about to die, that she would die unrecognized, that none of us would ever live up to her example, and that we were the only witnesses. That we were all so small after that. That everybody dies anyway."

I am madly in love with Aimee Bender and have been for a very long time. I use sentences from her work frequently with my students to discuss what makes a Perfect Sentence. 

Her most recent collection of 15 short stories which range from good to heartbreakingly perfect. The stories cover a huge range of topics, many different kinds of characters (although the Slightly Awkward Introverted Female appears quite often), and varying levels of magical realism. I think one of the most enjoyable aspects of reading an Aimee Bender story comes after the reader has experienced many many of her stories. Because I'm familiar with her work, I read it with a heightened sense of anticipation - she can and will do anything with her characters. When two men start making out in "On a Saturday Afternoon," I know that they can begin to devour each other, they can devolve into single cell organisms, or they could start to eat soap (plot points that have appeared in her other work). For people who don't enjoy magical realism, this would probably lead to high levels of frustration, but for me it leads to absolute delight. 

The story I would put in the Heartbreakingly Perfect category is "Tiger Mending." The story centers around two sisters who are brought to Malaysia so that one sister - a perfect seamstress - can mend tigers whose skin has been ripped apart. (The sister is the one above who is steeping her tea with perfect Zen). Like Sherman Alexie's "Indian Education," this story will become one that I figure out how to work into a variety of classes I teach just because I love it so much. 

Even the ones that are Just Good have extra special features. Although I put "Lemonade" in this category, I am impressed with Bender's ability to create a voice that is completely different from other 14 voices that are in this collection. ("I was a the Bev with Sylv and we were eating Chinese food takeout from Panda Express and I said about how the chicken chow mein would be a good street, like Chow Main? Like a Main Street in a food part of town? Get it?") 

I recommend Bender to almost everyone. Her writing is just so special, her stories so whimsical but with an intelligence that is not often associated with whimsy, and the way her characters are searching for something real which can't be lost seems to be relatable to almost everyone. 

I would categorize the stories in this collection as follows (without any kind of ranking within a category):

  • Heartbreakingly Perfect

Tiger Mending
On a Saturday Afternoon
Bad Return
The Color Master

  • Incredibly Good

A State of Variance
The Red Ribbon
The Doctor and the Rabbi
The Devourings

  • Just Good

The Fake Nazi
Origin Lessons


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Randy said...

Would you recommend reading this book or her other one first?

Brittany said...

I love her novels more, but even between them I'm not sure which one I would recommend. I have a much stronger emotional reaction to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, but I think that if I hadn't already understood the world as Bender writes it I might have seen it as more absurd than magical real and disliked it.

An Invisible Sign of My Own is much more straightforward and I would say, probably more easily likeable. If I were introducing someone to Bender with the knowledge that the book I recommend is the only book they might read, I would say that one.