I read a review of this book somewhere on the internet, a long time ago. Maybe on Pajiba, maybe on Cannonball read, I don’t really remember. But I did write the title and the author down in my little notebook, along with the dozens (maybe hundreds) of other books I plan on reading, and movies and TV shows that I plan on seeing. This year, before the world changed forever, a few friends came over to hang out and one of them brought the book and said that he feels like I might want to borrow it. I had not told him that it was on my list, in fact, it totally escaped my mind until he handed me the book. He just thought that I was the kind of person who would like Willful Creatures and he is not wrong. So I read it during the first month of quarantine (we are already on our 5th month, the longest quarantine in the world, i think) when I could still focus and mull over and revel in the little morsels of weird that are Aimee Bender’s short stories.
This book is a collection of 15 short stories. Her stories are inhabited by willful creatures, some more melancholy, some more malevolent. Her world is one in which the surreal just is. Fantastical elements are not acknowledged as such and the narration is so matter of fact that you don’t question it. The world is just that way in her stories. It is a world where somebody can purchase a tiny human as a pet, where a family of pumpkin heads can have a son with an iron head, or a boy can have fingers shaped like keys. Some stories are more fantastical than others, but they are all written in way that makes them feel like fables or fairy tales, or myths. There is a sort of detachment in the storytelling but at the same time, they feel very real. Some stories are disturbing and violent which shocked me a little because she often tells the story from the “perpetrators” point of view but imbuing them with familiar emotions just taken to a grotesque level. I don’t know, they’re better read than described, I think.
So yes, my friend was not wrong. I did want to read this book. Some of the stories revealed themselves to me, like I get what it was trying to say beyond the weirdness. Some stories, their meaning eludes me. Either way, the stories stuck with me, bubbling up in my brain at random times. I don’t think I’ll be returning this book.