three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
By: 
Aimee Bender
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-WillfulCreaturesThe author of the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own and the story collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt returns with 15 stories (13 of them previously published) about love, sex, heartbreak, potato babies, and children with keys as fingers or steam irons as heads (born, of course, to two pumpkin-heads). Bender creates surreal worlds in which true emotion flowers. A woman still loves her seven children, even if they are baking potatoes. A man buys a tiny little man as a pet, only to be tempted by power. And a boy with key-shaped fingers wants to open up his father’s past. In all stories, Bender paints tender emotions and heartbreaking relationships between animate and inanimate objects.
Doubleday. 224 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 0385501137

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers no doubt will hear echoes of Gabriel García Márquez in Bender’s lyrical, surreal prose. . . . 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." Geoffrey Campbell

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Her short, sleekly crafted stories are often called fairy tales, but there is nothing airy-fairy about them. They are often funny, sometimes dangerous, and always strange. Bender’s style has the lean, lyric flexibility of pure storytelling." Katherine Dunn

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Lyrical and lovely, Bender’s prose is also matter-of-fact and direct. . . . She is Ernest Hemingway, using one perfect word where most writers would use 12. Even better, she is Hemingway on an acid trip; her choices are twisted, both ethereal and surprisingly weighty." Diana Wagman

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In her latest collection of short stories, Willful Creatures, Aimee Bender continually encapsulates emotions and experiences such as soured love. . . . This collection moves along effortlessly, though you will linger in the ‘what’ it reveals." Buzz Poole

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Stripped of excess and outright emotion, her writing is tough, sometimes kooky, and scarily precise; she can evoke a scene of great tenderness with allegory alone, like the pumpkin-headed couple who give birth to an iron-headed child. . . . Willful Creatures is half doodling and half treasure, but I suspect the mind that invented these stories could travel more widely in earthbound spheres." Gail Caldwell

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Her twinkling, chatty prose style carries the reader effortlessly over the road bumps of implausibility. . . . Heavy-handed metaphor is not uncommon in these stories; too often, overbearing symbolism throws Bender’s fragile concoctions out of whack, or she twists her plots too far." Joy Press

Critical Summary

"Surreal," "bizarre," and "outlandish" appear frequently in descriptions of Bender’s stories, most culled from prestigious literary magazines. Despite their unreal premises, these stories rarely fail to connect with readers emotionally. Her characters are often both disturbed and disturbing. Opinions differ on whether to call Bender a dark writer or a magical realist, but nobody has unkind words for her prose. Some of these tales—fairy tales, even—succeed masterfully; others are weak by comparison, and most reviewers prefer to treat the stories individually, rather than sum up the collection. Readers who suspend their disbelief unwillingly should pass on this one. Those who appreciate fine writing as much as ethereal storytelling will enjoy it greatly.