I have been a fan of Aimee Bender ever since I read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt back in college. Since then I have read and enjoyed all of her works, but what stands out the most is her short stories. While I have never been able to claim a single book as my favorite, The Color Master is definitely up there on the list. Bender creates a strange, fascinating, and magical world, but the real draw is the characters. They are ordinary and flawed, but their emotions are real and they touch your heart and make you contemplate the world around you. In one story, an overqualified seamstress impulsively takes a job in Kuala Lumpur, only to find that she will be mending tigers that are coming apart at the stripes. In another, an ugly woman leaves her own village and takes a chance by marrying and having children with an ogre who has a taste for humans. One night, six human children show up at her doorstep. In an attempt to protect them from being eaten, she hides them in the bed of her own half-ogres.
My favorite short story in The Color Master is called Wordkeepers. This passage made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion:
“Those breathing things,” a student of mine said last week, gesturing at her chest. She was trying to explain to me why she had to miss the history test. I nodded. I got it.
“Pneumonia,” she said.
“I think so,” she said. “The doctor gave me drugs”
She thought for a second. She made that little wheeze sound. “Antirobotics?”
I couldn’t help smiling. “So you will not become a robot,” I said.
“Hope not,” she laughed.
Grace Smart is a Library Assistant II at the Emily Fowler Central Library