Bender’s gifts as an author are prodigious, and with each story, she moves the reader in surprising, not to say startling,...

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THE COLOR MASTER

STORIES

Stories that range from fairy tales to quasi-erotica, all showing Bender’s versatility as an author.

“Appleless” starts us out with an allegorical tale of a girl who refuses to eat apples, a lack of appetite that makes her suspect in an apple-eating world. She eventually inspires such suspicion that she’s assaulted by a pack of apple eaters, and in response, the orchard withers. (One startling and disconcerting note in this story is that the narrator identifies as one of the pack of attackers.) The titular story also verges on fairy tale. In it, the Color Master is consulted whenever a dyeing job of particular importance is needed—the duke’s shoes, for example. One day, the narrator, a lowly apprentice, gets a request for a dress the color of the moon, a task made more challenging because the Color Master has become ill. Bender mines a more sensual vein in stories like “The Red Ribbon,” in which a woman spices up intimacy with her husband by insisting on being paid for sex (this after hearing her husband recount an incident about his college roommate once bringing in prostitutes). Her entire marriage then starts to work on the basis of quid pro quo, even down to washing the dishes. “On a Saturday Afternoon” involves the narrator’s indulgence in a sexual fantasy in which she invites two male friends to come to her apartment so she can get turned on by watching them kiss.

Bender’s gifts as an author are prodigious, and with each story, she moves the reader in surprising, not to say startling, ways.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-53489-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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