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Willful Creatures

Aimee Bender

The boy was born with fingers shaped like keys. All except one, the pinkie on the right hand, had sharp ridges running along their inner length, and a point at the tip. They were made of flesh, with nerves and pores, but of a tougher texture, more hardened and specific. As a child, the boy had a hard time learning to hold a pen and use scissors, but he was resilient and figured out his own method fast enough."

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

It's no secret that much of fiction is thinly-veiled autobiography. If that was true of Aimee Bender's Willful Creatures, her second story collection, then Bender's siblings are potatoes, she once bought a tiny man in a cage, and she knows a boy whose fingers are shaped like keys. 

These stories fall under the category of magical realism: from the opening words it is obvious we are not in the world as we know it. But these are no simplistic fairy tales, they are not fantastical stories with no resonance. These stories are all about life and all its twists and turns: the joys and the disappointments, the pain and the prejudice, the magic and the tragedy. 

Nothing is at it seems in these stories.

The motherfucker arrived at the West Coast from the Mid West
opens a story entitled Motherfucker. The reader may expect a tale of a womanizer who is much loathed by his conquests, but it is not that at all. It is this:
The motherfucker arrived at the West Coast from the Mid West.'I fuck mothers,' he said to anyone who asked him. 'And I do it well,' he added.
In Dearth, a woman who lives alone is surprised to find a cast iron pot of potatoes has appeared. She throws them away, but they keep coming back, and then they start growing hands and feet. Eventually, she gives up trying to get rid of them and begins to love them. 

Many of the stories do not have vegetables which grow limbs or boys with keys for fingers, but rather it is the style of writing that places them at the more surreal end of the spectrum. Words do not necessarily come in the traditional order, sentences are not always finished. There is a rhythm and a poetry here. 

The woman he met. He met a woman. This woman was the woman he met
is how the story The Meeting begins, and you find yourself carried away by these words as if they were waves, and when you reach the end of this story, and then end of all of these stories, even though you may not have understood everything on a rational level, they have touched you somewhere far deeper.

(This review first appeared in Transmission magazine)

Tania Hershman is editor of The Short Review. Tania's first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, is published by Salt Publishing.

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All  Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

18 Lies and 3 Truths: StoryQuarterly 2007 Annual

PublisherAnchor Books

Publication Date: August 2006

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?: No

Author bio: Aimee Bender is the author of three books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) which was a NY Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000) which was an L.A. Times pick of the year, and Willful Creatures, which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year. Her short fiction has been published in Granta, GQ, Harper's, Tin House, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, and many more, as well as heard on PRI's This American Life and Selected Shorts. She's received two Pushcart prizes, and was nominated for the TipTree award in 2005. She lives in Los Angeles, and teaches creative writing at USC.

Read an interview with Aimee Bender

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Author's recommendation: Powell's




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If you liked this book you might also like....

Lorrie Moore "Self Help"

Roy Kesey "All Over"

Aimee Bender "The Girl in the Flammable Skirt"

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