Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Color Master by Aimee Bender

Lord have mercy. This is gonna be a hard one to write. I had such mixed feelings about this book, and I had a visceral reaction early on that I absolutely did not expect. 

Backtracking just a bit: I loved The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Loved it. I was profoundly affected by it, while many other readers just found it too strange. But I thought there was enough context to justify and magnify the awesomeness of the weirdness. Right....yeah. 

But in The Color Master, Bender's individual premises are just as weird, if not WAY weirder, than they were in Lemon Cake. In fact, I read the first three stories or so, had a big ole WTF moment, and decided I just couldn't do it. I would lay the book aside. 

And then the ideas in the stories niggled at me. They were odd but they were oddly beautiful. What was I missing by not finishing the book? It's only 163 pages, after all. 

But what is the book about, you ask? I dunno. Magic. Relationships. Connection. Longing. There are some fairy tale retellings thrown in. It's about people in unusual and oddball situations. But some of the stories are touching and thought-provoking and affecting even though they're SO WEIRD. 

Goodreads is much more succinct with no overuse of the word "weird." 
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.
So yeah. My favorite stories were the ones that made more narrative sense or provided the most closure. In particular, the title story, "The Color Master," is a retelling of the first part of the French fairy tale, "Donkeyskin." A group of people work in a shop preparing luxury items for royalty and nobility. It might be a pair of shoes the color of rock. Or maybe a dress the color of the sun. The Color Master mixes all of the colors to make the item just right. But then she gets sick, and someone has to take over her job. And the story is about the girl from the shop who doesn't think she's very good at color mixing learning to accept her destiny and deal with her grief. Gorgeous. Magical. Awesome. 

But then there are stories like "Tiger Mending" which is briefly mentioned in the blurb. A woman who is exceptionally talented with sewing and embroidery is chosen to journey into the wilds of Malaysia to mend tigers who keep surfacing from the forest all ripped up. They're sewn up, sent on their way, but they just keep coming back, and the story's protagonist is bound and determined to find out why. And the why took the breath out of me because THAT'S IT?? That's all??? Like that's where the story is over??? Ugh. Frustrating.  

Overall, I am glad that I came back to this book. The writing is truly beautiful and intriguing, though the resolution--or lack thereof--in some of these stories made me angry. I shoot straight with y'all about short stories because I know that many of you don't care for them. If you don't like short stories, DON'T READ THIS BOOK. But if you are a lover of short stories with an open mind, have at it. You'll find some gems. 


Pub. Date: August 2013
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Format: E-book
ISBN: 9780385534895
Source: I received an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review. Check!



22 comments:

  1. I'm planning on reading Lemon Cake first, but even though I'm not big on short stories...I still might try this one. I just love weird :D

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    1. Lemon Cake rocked my world, while I found this one a bit frustrating. Although, I can't lie, I'm glad I read it for the hidden gems.

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  2. I've come to enjoy short stories more and more but I don't think I'm ready to tackle a collection like that.

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    1. If you've had to work to get to a point that you like short stories or you've worked to find some specific authors you enjoy, I'd steer clear of this one. It was tough for me and I like most short stories.

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  3. Short stories are not usually my jam. I may have to skip this one. Although I am intrigued by the ogre accidentally eating his offspring. That just makes me giggle. Ogres and hamsters have a lot in common, apparently.

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    1. That was a great story. Weird, of course, but very fairy tale-esque. And LOL, yes! Re: ogres and hamsters.

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  4. The fact that you went back to it says a lot to me. Like Katie said above, short stories aren't usually my thing. Well, they weren't until I started blogging anyway. I've come to appreciate them a lot more now.

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    1. True! I just had to go back. Couldn't stop myself. It was probably Yahoo Groups that got me back into short stories, and blogging has reinforced my love for them. I feel like a short story cheerleader sometimes. ;)

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  5. I liked Sadness but it was a little strange towards the end.

    I don't think I liked her writing enough to pick up anything else by her though. Although, your WTF moments make me wanna try. LOL.

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    1. It was, but I thought it was strangely beautiful. Very affecting for me--metaphorical, but affecting.

      LOL and lots of WTF.

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  6. I'm so glad you finished it, because the title story was my favorite, too. :) And I TOTALLY agree that readers who aren't gung-ho about short stories shouldn't read this. LOL

    By the way, while we're thinking about bizarre short stories... I think you should check out Lungs Full of Noise by Tessa Mellas. It's on NetGalley. ;) *hint hint*

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    1. IT WAS AWESOME! That story made the whole thing worthwhile. That one, and the one about the lost ring and the old man? Do you remember which one I'm talking about? That was a great story, too.

      I will definitely check out Lungs Full of Noise. GREAT title!

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    2. Yeah, "Bad Return" I think? I loved all of them LOL
      The "Red Ribbon" one was funny to me because my sister told me that horror story when we were kids and said she made it up. I didn't know until I read this she hadn't!!

      (PS couldn't reply in mobile mode on Firefox mobile either... I bet it's a Blogger thing)

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    3. Yes! That's it. And I'd totally forgotten about "Red Ribbon."

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  7. I wonder if this collection is going to bother me as much as it did you? I read Bender's very first short story collection and it was STRANGE. In the end, I did enjoy it but . . . weird, so I understand your feelings toward this one. I plan on reading this really soon.

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    1. I'm curious. Read it so we can talk about it! lol

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  8. I've started on a short story reading streak, but I'm also the type that really likes a resolution to a story - a good resolution, I mean. Not sure if this collection will work for me, but now I really want to know why the tigers kept needing mending!

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    1. LOL, and apparently the story was inspired by this painting: http://www.artnet.com/Magazine/reviews/honigman/Images/honigman5-20-4.jpg

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  9. I think it's okay to not love a book but to be hooked by the book itself, like how you picked it back up later. There are books I didn't like but still will not leave me alone!

    -Rebecca @ Love at First Book

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  10. I think I'm going to pass up on this one. I'm not a big fan of short stories to begin with and add weird to that and I just am not really interested. I've read one of her books before and it was weird too. I would like to read more short stories but will just have to find other authors :)

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  11. I am craving short stories lately so this might be something worth picking up for me!

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  12. I love her first book but haven't read anything since. I don't do short stories so I should probably for the Lemon Cake next :)

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