Bender became a bestselling novelist with The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, but her new collection returns readers to her real forte: short stories that combine gnomic postmodern prose with whimsical fairy tale reveries. And yet whimsy is an odd word to apply to the wife of “The Red Ribbon,” who insists her husband pay her top dollar for every coupling, or “The Fake Nazi,” about a secretary who becomes obsessed with the life story of a guilt-ridden old man who turns himself in for war crimes he claims to have committed. Even the tales that resemble children’s storybooks, like the title story (a clever subversion of Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin”) and “The Devourings,” are haunted by a taut, sardonic melancholy. Dressmakers labor to perfect the color of moon, a talented seamstress mends the tears in tigers’ fur, ravenous ogres vomit the bones of their victims—“an insistent movement from feet up to mouth” results in body parts that “lay there in the grass, glazed in a layer of spit and acid”—and a piece of cake stuck in a tree becomes talisman to Bender’s brand of sweet dripping darkness. But the best stories are mood pieces about the mysteries of female friendship (“Bad Return”) and bittersweet pageants populated by mall-worshipping adolescents (“Lemonade”), still fanciful but so light on gimmick that the reader senses—like the lovelorn atheist in “The Doctor and the Rabbi”—“the realization that there were many ways to live a life.” Many ways to write a life too, and Bender colors them with a tincture out of dreams. The world is everywhere present in this collection, but it gets the moon in, too. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013 Release date: 08/13/2013 Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 145 pages - 978-0-385-53490-1
Hardcover - 321 pages - 978-1-4104-6511-5
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-307-74419-7
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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