Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: The Color Master

The Color Master: Stories
By Aimee Bender 
Doubleday August 2013
222 pages
From the library

The Color Master: Stories

In Aimee Bender's new collection of short stories, anything can happen. An innocent man insists he must be punished for the crimes committed in Nazi Germany, a protest on a college campus takes an unexpected turn, and small things start mysteriously appearing in the home of a suburban family.

In The Color Master, Bender finds a masterful balance between stories of magic in the everyday and the mundane in stories of magic and fantasy. She really captures the subtle differences between the psyche in high school and then just a few short years later in college, with the back to back stories "Lemonade" and "Bad Return." But she also creates incredible worlds where ogres and humans marry and where talented weavers create dresses like the moon or the sun. By putting all of these stories together, Bender shows us that there is magic to be found, but all of the magic in the world cannot defeat death or heal a broken relationship. 

As with many story collections, I found some stronger than others. As I read through the first few stories, I felt decidedly underwhelmed. There were some stories that felt somewhat unfinished. I was waiting for something more to happen in stories like "Tiger Mending" and "Appleless." I know that there is an artistry in writing a short story and that some of the most powerful tales are poignant in large part because of their brevity. But when you are left trying to figure out exactly what happened or wondering if these few pages actually comprise a complete story, it's a frustrating experience.

In spite of this, there are some really wonderful stories. I found myself captivated by "The Color Master," a retelling of a 17th century fairytale and just as committed as the narrator to find out the rationale behind an elderly man's guilt in "The Fake Nazi." Bender has a gift for writing gorgeous prose and I love watching her vivid imagination play out across the pages. While this is not a perfect collection, there are many stories in this book that will make you nod in recognition or smile at another confirmation that magic and love are alive and well in our world. 

Some favorite quotes from The Color Master:

"I put the anger in the dress the color of the sky. I put it in there so much I could hardly stand it - that she was about to die, that she would die unrecognized, that none of us would ever live up to her example, and that we were the only witnesses. That we are all so small after all that. That everybody dies anyway." The Color Master

"He could feel it, just feel it, the glimmer of something that he did not understand. But he would never call it God. He would not call it prayer. But just beyond his sandwich, and the four TV shows he watched back to back, and his teeth brushing, and his face washing, and his nighttime reading of a magazine, and his light switching off, just the faint realization that there were many ways to live a life and that some people were living a life that was very different than his, and the way they lived was beyond him and also didn't interest him and yet he could sense it. Comfort and fear rose together inside him. Like standing in the middle of a meadow, where no one had his back." The Doctor and the Rabbi

"She shook her head at him, confused. "But you can't leave," she said. You're the devoted one."
Her eyes were kind, and sad, at the sink,
"Are you leaving?" she said, and her voice rose, sharp.
"No." But there was a softness to his tone that implied a question, or the very first hint of a question mark, and she could see, suddenly, that they were on their way to leaving already, that this conversation was only a walking through a door already open, and once those eyes left they were not going to return and the clothing would be no barrier at all, nothing, shreds, tissues, for all the pain then rushing in." The Red Ribbon 


  1. Agh! I've had this book from the library for like a MONTH and I still haven't read it yet! On a sidenote, I started reading March and woaahhhhh. I'm only a couple chapters in but that first chapter was NOT what I was expecting! So graphic! I read it on the train and I can only imagine what sort of horrified expression I was wearing haha. It's pretty good so far though!

    1. I loved that about March! I feel like Geraldine Brooks said, "You think you know about the Marches? You know nothing!"

  2. I finally read this! I'm definitely with you - the first few stories didn't do it with me. Starting with Appless...was...bold. It was disturbing and I think unnecessary and it made me angry so that maaaay have influenced my opinions of the next few stories. But some of them were really, really great. That quote you picked from The Doctor and the Rabbi is probably one of my favourite parts of the whole book!

    1. It was a mixed bag for me too. I really liked some of them, but there were several I could have skipped. I think it's hard to find a consistently great story collection.