The past few days, which are months in reader-not-reading time, I’d had real trouble getting into books that I’d normally like. Some were too dramatic, others too romantic. Prose too simple, too florid. And then I happened across this anthology, the cover of which had me seduced me in, the title that exorcised my doubts and the stories, writing that captivate me beyond those pages, and will continue to haunt me.
Bender writes in the simplest, non-fussy words that somehow, in their arrangement, turn out most magical and surreal. Bender writes in the prettiest, summer-dress-type proses that hide something far darker underneath. Her stories carry disturbing and sinister undertones that belie the fairy tales shimmering on the surface. That’s the only commonality in the stories and it gives cohesion to the anthology; the stories that would have been in discord but for that malice inside.
Comfort and fear rose together inside him. Like standing in the middle of a meadow, where no one had his back.
No one expects a tree to be symmetrical at all. It opens its arms, in its unevenness, and he, a butterfly, flew inside.
Funnily enough, these two lines are from the stories I liked the least, which is still far too much.
But it’s not just that. She picks out the most honest and trivial truths of our everyday lives, the ones that trouble us all the sucking time and we can’t even identify them. The ones we unknowingly shun; the ones that we aren’t even aware we have, until someone, say Aimee Bender, comes along and points it out to us.
The stories have a flair about them, a sadness and a poetry.
Appleless : This one is the first story and the shortest of off; it’s more of an introduction and/or warning into/about what’s to come. It’s about obsession and how it morphs, that it can’t stay innocuous for long. It terrified me the most and is one of my favorites of the collection. It’s appalling but it reads like a… well, you see:
I once knew a girl who wouldn’t eat apples. She wove her way walking around groves and orchards. She didn’t even like to look at them… We sit in the orchard, cross-legged, and when they fall off the tress into our outstretched hands, we bite right in… She’s so beautiful on this day, her skin as wide and open as a river. We could swim right down her.
The Red Ribbon & Tiger Beding : I have no bloody clue what to say about these two, frankly. The ending of the former was sad and I love those last, parting lines. The latter one was about bitter truth and secrets that you’re better off not knowing, or that what I interpreted.
Faces : The kid here doesn’t see faces, just features. Make of that what you will but it was creepy, creepy all round.
On that Saturday Afternoon : Here we are shown in a moment of indulgence that things change and they do so easily. I love how it laid bare the truth and repetition of relationships.
The Fake Nazi & A State of Variance : These two stories start with an old man and a woman, respectively but end up being entirely about someone else.
Lemonade : It’s the story of a teenaged girl, blinded by a fervent need to please. I wasn’t too keen on it when I first read it, but since then, it has stood out the most to me, besides Appleless and is one of my favorites.
Bad Return : This one is of my least favorite, by which I mean that I didn’t enjoy it to the same degree as I did the others and that is not a reflection on its quality at all.
The Doctor and The Rabbi & Wordkeepers : To these two, I say:
I am a man, man, man, man
Up, up in the air
And I run around, round, round, round
this down town and act like I don’t care.
So when you see me flying by the planet’s moon,
You don’t need to explain if everything’s changed
Just know I’m just like you.
Just for the heck of it, really.
Origin Lessons : Best science lesson by far, truly.
The universe began in a veil. Like a bride.
The Color Master : And I fell in love with this story, bit by bit, color by color. It’s a prequel to the fable “Donkeyskin”. It’s about that tailors that help shape the princess’s future and her emancipation from he father. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it!!!
Americca : So what I said about the previous stories? Yeah, pretty much applies here. I was so fascinated by the childhood, and the sense of fright and miracle that fills those days. And the fact that she let it linger on.
The Devourings : Damn, I’m sounding like a broken record but here goes: I really, really, really, really liked it! There are an ogre and a woman, but more than them, it’s a story on their bond as a couple and look how it ends:
This is the spell of the cake. And the darkness, eating light, and again light, and again light, lifted.
Aimee Bender, did anybody ever tell you that I’m in love with you? No? People are assholes.
And *ahem* cover, my preciousssssss, come here, my precioussssssssss…
Review copy provided by the publishers