A review of
by Aimee Bender
Many of the willful creatures populating Aimee Bender’s radiant second short story collection seem the innocent, cloudy-headed dreams of a child. Potato-children dotingly follow mother as she completes her chores; a miniature man lounges on dollhouse furniture and keeps a pet ant in a cage; a family of pumpkinheads love their oddball ironhead son; and a boy with keys for fingers unlocks doors all over the world.
But it’s not safe and secure. Each story is laced with a bit of arsenic that curls the tongue and sharpens the breath. Narrative storms—loneliness, suspicion, torture, and death—sweep in and electrocute the landscape with jagged lightning. Always unexpected, the events befalling these characters aren’t the whims of a cruel author who enjoys inflicting pain. In fact, Bender feels less the creator of these stories and more a charming hostess who, despite some less than ideal circumstances, makes you comfortable with affable, screwy humor, parlor-room wordplay, and some plain old cute sentences like, “He felt very very tired for four years old.” Many writers try to stand back and let their characters direct the story, but in Willful Creatures, this idea is palpable in the narrative itself. In the best possible sense, Bender doesn’t seem in control.
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