Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Color Master - Aimee Bender

The Color Master: Stories 


GoodreadsThe 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.

Notable quote:   

"He could feel it, just feel it, the glimmer of something that he did not understand. But he would never call it God. He would not call it prayer. But just beyond his sandwich, and the four TV shows he watched back to back, and his teeth brushing, and his face washing, and his nighttime reading of a magazine, and his light switching off, just the faint realization that there were many ways to live a life and that some people were living a life that was very different than his, and the way they lived was beyond him and also didn't interest him and yet he could sense it. Comfort and fear rose together inside him. Like standing in the middle of a meadow, where no one had his back." 

"The Doctor and the Rabbi" (probably my second favourite story in the lot after "The Devourings")


It's always hard for me to think of a way to review short stories (which is why I haven't so far), but I thought now would be as good as a time as any to start trying.  The Color Master is divided into three parts that all seem to be centered around a sort of theme.

  The very first story in the entire book titled "Appless" featured from what I can tell *spoilers* a gang rape.*spoilers*   I thought it was offensive, unnecessary, and it made it hard for me to have much patience for the other stories in Part I, which featured women who explore power/equality/other things like that with their sexuality.  I thought most of them were interesting, but none really stood out and captured me the way I had been expecting them to. 

Fortunately, Aimee Bender worked her magic and there were plenty of other stories to enjoy!  I thought "Bad Return" which featured a college student who wanders into a stranger's home pretty enjoyable, and "Origin Class" was thought provoking in a different way than many of Bender's other stories were.  "Wordkeepers" was more realistic than her usual works (no hint of magic realism or even just strange things).  In fact it describes me in pretty much every conversation.  What does it mean for us that we can't remember words?  That we're constantly replacing names with "stuff" or "thingie"?  It wasn't something I'd thought of before, but it struck a chord with me.  Because it is a new thing that we're forgetting words, and it affects all generations.  It might come off as a bit pedantic to some, but I enjoyed the questions it posed.

As someone who is madly in love with faerie tale retellings, I obviously loved "The Color Master" - a retelling of Donkeyskin which is one of my all time favourite fairy tales, as well as "The Devourings".  "The Devourings" is the very last story in the book and it follows the perspective of the troll's wife (or giant if you're thinking Jack in the Beanstalk) whose husband accidentally eats his own children.  It follows her past her death and the death of all civilization when all that is left is a magical self-replenishing cake.  If I hated the opening to this collection of stories, "The Devourings" couldn't have been a more perfect ending to it.  Easily my favourite short story of the lot, the writing is just magical in a way I've come to love and appreciate from Aimee Bender.  Even when I don't necessarily understand everything at play, there's this feeling of rightness to a lot of her writing.

If you're looking for a little more background on the individual stories, this review does a really great job of giving a brief summary of each story and how the reviewer felt about them.  I don't necessarily agree with all the ratings, but I've spotlighted the stories that I enjoyed the most here.


The collection was a bit of a mixed bag.  Part I didn't do much for me, whereas I enjoyed almost all the stories in Part II  and III immensely, and "The Devourings" is one now one of my favourite short stories of all time.  I definitely recommend looking into this if you are a fan of Aimee Bender at all (or even Neil Gaiman - there's some resemblances there even if I can't articulate exactly what they are) or enjoy short stories.  This isn't usually my scene as I rarely read short story collections, but I don't regret it for a minute.  Aimee Bender's stories are always refreshing and often take a turn for the completely unexpected.

Bechdel Test

I was silly enough to return this to the library without marking any quotes at all which is a shame.  It's no surprise to me that Aimee Bender's work passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.  Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two of the short stories that pass the test - Lemonade and Tiger Mending - simply because they only have women in the stories.  Other works like Americca, The Color Master, Bad Return, and The Red Ribbon pass the test in some form or another (I think, I can't guarantee as I don't have the book to check against).  It's amazing that in a book full of short stories, about half pass the test, whereas most full length novels can't manage it.  Something to ponder over...


  1. Hooray! I'm glad you liked most of these. I think I put this one on my Christmas list, so I can reread these stories whenever my little heart desires!

  2. There are definitely a few of these I want to reread!


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