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!

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