The Colour Master by Aimee Bender
16th Oct 2013
Stretching the reader’s mind from the mundane to the magical, Bender’s fabulist style is unmistakable even as she flits between voices from story to story, often not divulging or misleading the reader with the nature of her narrator. In bubbling succession the narrative is seized by voices from Californian teenager to college student to frustrated boy-child.
In bubbling succession the narrative is seized by voices from Californian teenager to college student to frustrated boy-childThe narrator of the opening tale, Appleless, is clinically cruel, bemused by a girl’s refusal to partake in orchard apple-feasting, observing unmoved as the girl despairs against an onslaught of apple-wielding peers.
In Tiger Mending, the gifted protagonist is called upon to stitch the stripes back onto tigers, but in spite of her overwhelming desire to act as “fixer” she finds that she cannot ever remedy the problem at its root but must content herself with her role as salve.
Lemonade sees a hapless teenager smiling into a world that doesn’t smile upon her. Even as her friends disregard her she works to exude joy for others, even appreciating the traffic lights on her drive home.
The title story, The Colour Master, tells of an apprentice taking up their role as master, infusing the colours of sky and sun and moon into everyday garments for sale, learning the magic from an ethereal teacher.
Some of Bender’s tales like The Doctor and the Rabbi wear their messages proud, as the logical doctor is inexorably drawn to the warm and contented rabbi. He cures her illness giving her the blood that she needs to be alive but really it is she who calmly carries herself with the poise afforded by the knowledge that a greater force watches over her.
Others like Bad Return, which sees a college student having Japanese tea with a stranger in his home, are much more opaque, seeming to explore a fantastical situation for its own tangential sake.
Bender’s stories almost always feature a wholly virtuous character, like the teenager in Lemonade, Hans Hoeffler in The Fake Nazi – who, though innocent, assumes blame for the many horrors befallen by victims in Nazi Germany – The Colour Master herself or the benevolent Rabbi in The Rabbi and the Doctor.
Each of these patient, talented, kind characters seem to be an aspirational creation to reflect another wonder that we all might have the power to inject into our own worlds.
The author’s words and phrasing may not always be elegant but they aren’t far off, serving to roll out unkempt wilds of storytelling suffused with sex, darkness, magic and moral curiosity with a lilting touch of humour.