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Willful Creatures: Stories Hardcover – August 16, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Fifteen stories bursting with heart and marvel make up this daringly original collection by Bender (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt). Nameless characters lend the tales an allegorical feel and heighten the emotional impact, as in one story's breathlessly cinematic love scene between a seducer (identified only by an expletive, "the mother—") and his prey ("the starlet"). With stories that turn on stark cruelty, Bender deftly forces uncomfortable identification with unsympathetic protagonists who torment the weak: like "Debbieland" 's collective "we" of predatory girls, and the man in "End of the Line" who purchases a miniature man as a pet and tortures him. Elsewhere, she evokes tender relationships with a balance of earthy heartbreak and otherworldly strangeness. In "Dearth," the sudden appearance of seven potato-children forces the solitary protagonist into messy motherhood; in "Ironhead," a pumpkin-headed couple grieves for their dead child, whose heavy head, literally a clothes iron, kills him with its debilitating weight; in "The Leading Man," a boy with key-shaped fingers wishes only to unlock the secret of his father's wartime trauma. Bender's surrealism is never gratuitous in the fantastical yet truthful stories of this singular collection.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

"Surreal," "bizarre," and "outlandish" appear frequently in descriptions of Bender’s stories, most culled from prestigious literary magazines. Despite their unreal premises, these stories rarely fail to connect with readers emotionally. Her characters are often both disturbed and disturbing. Opinions differ on whether to call Bender a dark writer or a magical realist, but nobody has unkind words for her prose. Some of these tales—fairy tales, even—succeed masterfully; others are weak by comparison, and most reviewers prefer to treat the stories individually, rather than sum up the collection. Readers who suspend their disbelief unwillingly should pass on this one. Those who appreciate fine writing as much as ethereal storytelling will enjoy it greatly.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (August 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385501137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385501132
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.8 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Aimee Bender's stories are the contemporary descendents of those of the Brothers Grimm, with their surrealism laid on top of human desire and need. In both her previous collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, and this newest one, Willful Creatures, her fiction adopts the tone of fairytales through the straightforward storytelling of the bizarre. Instead of a sausage growing on the end of a nose, Bender gives us potato children and a captive miniature man. Instead of a wicked stepmother, she conjures a collective group of predatory teenage girls. The "willful creatures" of the title take over and change the lives of the people who discover them. While some of these creatures have irons for heads or are made of glass or have keys for fingers, many appear, at least superficially, as ordinary people living routine lives.

One of the most memorable stories is "End of the Line," where a big man buys a little man from a pet shop, keeps him in a cage with a television and sofa, and commits unspeakable cruelties. "The Meeting" starts out like a Talking Heads song of the late 1970s: "The woman he met. He met a woman. This woman was the woman he met." From this staccato, inane beginning, the story develops the theme of ruined expectations and how they can evolve, without warning, into powerful emotions. "Dearth" is the story of a childless woman who discovers a pot of persistent, magical potatoes that grow into children. In "The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers," the narrator, a crime investigator, is less concerned with how a husband and wife killed each other at the same moment than he is with the mysterious collection of fourteen salt and pepper shakers he finds in their house.

Readers won't confuse Bender's work with anyone else's.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By insomniac on September 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection is darker than Aimee Bender's first. It contains a few stories in her "signature" fairy tale/magical realist style, including one featuring a family with pumpkin and clothes-iron heads and one about a boy with a hand made of keys (whose destiny unfolds as he discovers which lock fits each). But my favorite here are less twisted with symbolism. "Debbieland" is layered with anger and desire, and she deftly uses the first person plural to reveal just how disconnected the narrator is from herself. "Off" is angry too: it may or may not star the heiress character we met in The Girl In The Flammable Skirt, an idle and beautiful woman partial to inappropriately dressy couture who finds herself in infuriating and embarrassing situations when she tries to elicit attention from men. In "Off" she decides to collect kisses from three men chosen by hair color, and finds herself confronted with the unfinished buisness of her last relationship; by the end of the story this haughty and self-confident woman is reduced to hiding in the coat closet with a pile of coats, hoping that the man she "doesn't love" will come and find her there.

Aimee Bender is still growing and developing as a writer, and this book is a fascinating look into her maturing voice. She's always been adept, original, witty, and strange. Now she's finding her depth. I expect great things to come from her.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amy Adler on April 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I love the works of Aimee Bender. Willful Creatures proves that Bender does not stale with age, but get better and better and better. I recommend all her works, of course, but I believe Willfucl Creatures to be her best. A MUST READ for all fans of magical realism, stories about relationships and/or heartache, or just good stories in general. An evening spent with Aimee Bender is an evening spent in bliss.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By CoffeeGurl HALL OF FAME on October 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the strangest short-story collections I have ever read. Then again, I had come to expect that from the author of the brilliant short-fiction book The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. Now Aimee Bender writes some rather dark, strange and disarming stories in Willful Creatures that will truly shock you and keep you thinking long after you finish reading each story. The characters are nameless, unflinching in their actions and quite unlikeable, doing things that will repel and compel you at the same time. From bad parents, shameless seducers and abusers who target upon the weak, this collection has it all. My favorite stories are "The Leading Man," "Debbieland," "Dearth," "The Meeting," and "End of the Line." All of the stories are amazing, but the aforementioned ones stood out the most for me. I marvel at Bender's writing style. She reminds me a great deal of Amanda Filipacchi in that she mixes the outlandish with the mundane in an astonishing, hilarious twist. Are you in the bargain for some literary and surreal short stories? I recommend you read Willful Creatures. And give The Girl in the Flammable Skirt a whirl while you're at it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Arienette Cervantes on November 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a tremendous book. I liked The Girl in the Flammable Skirt very much but this book...it hits a little harder. All of these stories are fantastic. The one about the pumpkin head couple that have a son with an Iron head is amazing. Its so unreal yet the emotion it evokes is an intense combination of every real feeling the reader has ever felt. Its about being an outcast. Its about being loved anyway-or rather, because of our eccentricities. And she writes with such lyrical subtlety...the words read smoothly and quick but looking back (i read this about a year ago) i can recall so much detail and feeling. These stories are more tangible than you will realize. Read it.
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