From Publishers Weekly
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.
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"Surreal," "bizarre," and "outlandish" appear frequently in descriptions of Benders 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 talesfairy tales, evensucceed 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.