MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Stories by Los Angeles writer Aimee Bender have a serious following among magazine readers. A second collection of her work is just out. It's called "Willful Creatures." Alan Cheuse has a review.
ALAN CHEUSE reporting:
If there's any serious writer going against the stream of realistic short fiction these days, it's Aimee Bender. Psychologically valid characters? Out the window. Plot? Toss it overboard. And Bender uses language the way painters move paint, working squarely in the tradition of Gertrude Stein. `The woman he met, he met a woman' one story begins. `This woman was a woman he met. She was not the woman he expected to meet or planned to meet,' and so on and so on. Hey, stand up for Gertrude who made us all notice that language was a plastic medium like stone to the sculptor, like noise to the composer.
Bender borrows a lot of other techniques from magical realist writers, from surrealists and from fairy tales. One of her most memorable figures in these stories is a boy born with keys for fingers. Guess what he spends most of his life doing. Another is a man about as tall as your thumb who's kept as a pet by a normal human being. Well, what is normal in Bender world, I'm not really sure, but she can take the taste of a determined reader like me and, by sheer force of will, turn it around. I thought I hated allegory. I never liked fairy tales. Give me stark realism.
Actually, Bender has a great eye for detail. Drops of blood on an emergency room carpet, the shape of a German woman's breasts, apartments and kitchens and city streets all seem quite real, as do the emotions, a sense of loneliness and isolation that generates most of the action in these stories, even as she turns reality on its head.
BLOCK: The collection is called "Willful Creatures" from Aimee Bender. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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