Author: Aimee Bender
Publication Year: 2013
The bestselling author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake returns with a wondrous collection of dreamy, strange, and magical stories.Truly beloved by readers and critics alike, Aimee Bender has become known as something of an enchantress whose lush prose is “moving, fanciful, and gorgeously strange” (People), “richly imagined and bittersweet” (Vanity Fair), and “full of provocative ideas” (The Boston Globe). In her deft hands, “relationships and mundane activities take on mythic qualities” (The Wall Street Journal).In this collection, Bender’s unique talents sparkle brilliantly in stories about people searching for connection through love, sex, and family—while navigating the often painful realities of their lives. A traumatic event unfolds when a girl with flowing hair of golden wheat appears in an apple orchard, where a group of people await her. A woman plays out a prostitution fantasy with her husband and finds she cannot go back to her old sex life. An ugly woman marries an ogre and struggles to decide if she should stay with him after he mistakenly eats their children. Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds.In these deeply resonant stories—evocative, funny, beautiful, and sad—we see ourselves reflected as if in a funhouse mirror. Aimee Bender has once again proven herself to be among the most imaginative, exciting, and intelligent writers of our time.
The Color Master: Stories is a short stories collection by Aimee Bender. After doing some googling, I found out that Bender is an established author and famous for her short stories. This is my first time reading her book, but I read somewhere that says her writing has some kind of surreal plot. To make matters easier, I will explain and discuss more about each short stories and give them ratings individually.
This book is divided into three parts. I’m not sure if the short stories in a particular part are somehow connected or have the same theme. Anyway, the short stories are:
Appleless is a story about a group of people who are obsessed with apple. They met a girl who dislikes apple. This story could be taken literally or interpreted as something different. I thought this story is about majority that forced their opinion to minority. But reading it again, Appleless is possibly a rape story. This story only has three pages. It was creepy but gorgeous. This short story is my first encounter with Bender’s writing. And I fell in love with her writing instantly.
The Red Ribbon (4*)
This is the story about a woman who role-plays as a prostitute to her husband for a week. After the week end, she feels that she has to be paid to do everything. She starts to see everything as how much they money they worth. The title itself came from a creepy story about a woman with red ribbon tied to her neck. It is a weird story but the writing is beautiful. I didn’t see the connection between the creepy story and the woman with loveless marriage. I’m still confused about that. Still, it’s enjoyable.
Tiger Mending (4*)
Tiger Mending is a story about a talented seamstress and her sister. When I said talented, I mean very talented. She’s able to stitch from handkerchief to cut lips. One day, she’s offered a job in Malaysia. She then takes her sister, who works in Burger King, with her. Apparently, her new job requires her to sew up the stripes of the tigers back. Again, a bizarre story. Especially after I found out the reason why the stripes fell off.
This one tells a story about a boy who isn’t able to distinguish people’s faces. His parents didn’t know about this until his mother tried to fill in some ‘How well do you know your children’ questionnaires in Magazine. His mother couldn’t answer some of the questions. This leads to her paying more attention to the boy’s social life at school. I took it as a story about social disorder and how it could go unnoticed even if it happened to your closest people in life. It’s frustrating at times, reading about the boy. But sometimes he got a good point.
‘Wasn’t there enough complication in the world already without having to take in the overload of details and universes in every single person’s fucking face?’
On a Saturday Afternoon (2*)
This is probably my least favorite of all. It’s about a girl who has just broken up. Then one afternoon she asks her two male friends to her apartment. Her friends expect to have threesome with her, but she just want to watch. Honestly, I don’t know what Bender intended to say with this story. Though this story is weirdly feel emotional, it just seems like those fancy French art movie.
The Fake Nazi (4*)
The Fake Nazi is a story about an old man named Hans Hoeflr who turned himself into the police for crimes he never committed. He confessed that he was a Nazi and had done several horrible crimes. However, when they cross-checked the fact, Hoeflr’s name never came up. The secretary of the court interested in Hoeflr and did a little digging about him. She then learned the truth about his behavior from his estranged brother. It was a sad story actually. I love it that Bender provides a back story to Hoeflr, which makes me sympathize to him more. Hoeflr ended up committed suicide and for appreciation the court carved his grave with ‘we need more Hans Hoefler in this world’. Despite of the good intention of the people from court, after learning about his past, I find the carving to be an irony.
It’s a story about a girl and her friend (and her so-called friends). It’s a simple short story with teenage vibe, set in a mall. The main character is so nice and so thoughtful about everyone around her. Sadly, her attitude makes her branded as weird. This story shows how cruel teenage girls can be and even a nice person considered as unusual to them.
Bad Return (3*)
I couldn’t give a summary on what this story is about because it was confusing to me. It might be about two people with opposite personalities and their friendship. But then there’s also a bit about a mysterious old man who seems to know everything about the main. I just didn’t get it. I enjoyed the friendship part and don’t know what to feel about the stranger old man part.
Origin Lessons (3.5*)
Origin Lessons is a four pages short story about a teacher who tried to explain about the origin of the universe to his students. I love how the discussion went on between the teacher and the students. It’s a simple story with beautiful writing.
The Doctor and the Rabbi (4*)
This story is about a doctor who came to a rabbi to ask some existential question about God. After the discussion their lives seemed to be intertwined and they start to have regular discussions. These discussions lead the doctor to believe that he’s having an emotional affair with the rabbi. This short story left a lot of things to think about. Same with Origin Lessons, I love the discussions between the doctor and rabbi. Even the analogies that these people use in their arguments sound poetic to me.
Wordkeepers is a story about a person who started to forget some vocabularies. This person blames it to the technology and how it keeps moving forward while ‘people were reverting to the caveman times’. Bender never stated clearly if the main character is a man or a woman. I’ve reread it and didn’t find a clue about it. Especially since this story is told from first perspective. But I have an odd feeling that the main is a woman. Apart from the whole technology-reverts-the-way-people-communicate issue, this is also a story about relationship between two people.
The Color Master (4*)
This story is the title story of this book. It’s about a color master, who’s a person with an exceptional ability to mix colors, and her tailors. They had a request from a King to made three dresses for wedding gifts. The color master apparently is in a bad condition so she appointed one of the tailors to do the job. This story is told in a fairy tale style. I love reading fairy tales so I love that aspect of this story. Although it creeps me out that the King was marrying his own daughter, in the end it’s told that this story is a prequel to Charles Perrault's fairy tale called ‘Donkeyskin’. I’ve never heard about that fairy tale. I hope to God that the incest thing is necessary for this story to connect with the Donkeyskin.
A State of Variance (3*)
A State of Variance is another weird story about a woman with a symmetrical life and her son who has symmetrical face. This symmetrical face gives the son disadvantage in life and he tries to change that. Again, I can’t see what Bender’s trying to tell the reader in this story. But this story has a nice ending that I fairly enjoyed.
Americca is a quirky story about a family that finds things they didn’t buy appearing in their house. This story is told from a girl’s perspective. At first I thought that the narrator is probably 15-ish years old. So I was surprised to find out that she’s actually 10 years old. The way she handled things doesn’t look 10 years old to me, but I like reading her narration.
The Devourings (3.5*)
This is a story about a woman who marries an ogre. They had six ogre children together. One day, the ogre accidentally eats his own children. The woman then tries to deal with it by travelling to a river. Then a war between ogres and humans happened. So the woman decides to go back home. Told in a fairy tale style, The Devouring is a story about how a married couple handles tragedy that happened to them. Bender threw a question of whether it’s possible to save the marriage and recover it back to how it was. Though it’s a weird fairy tale (Bender’s specialty), I like how Bender present the issue about the marriage problem. She wrote about it as fantasy when the issue itself is real and happens to real people (not the eating children part).
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. My first impression of Bender’s work is it's a satisfying read. I’d love to read more of her works as I’ve fallen in love with her beautiful writing. The total rating of this book is the average rating from all short stories and I end up giving it four out of five.