The Color Master by Aimee Bender

A touch of magic…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the color masterThe best description I can come up with for this collection of fifteen short stories is ‘modern folk tales’. Ranging from more traditional tales of magic and monsters to very modern stories of sex and technology, if there is a common theme, it is of alienation and loneliness. Some of the stories are short and quirky, others longer and better developed. Sometimes humorous, sometimes moving, occasionally creepy, the stories are extremely well written and compellingly readable.

While the quality of the writing never wavers, I found the quality of the stories themselves to be somewhat variable. There were some that I felt hinted at a depth that didn’t in fact exist, and others that seemed rather pointless and occasionally a little gratuitously distasteful. For instance, the first story Appleless is a beautifully written tale glossed over with an air of magic and mysticism, which in the end fails to disguise that it is fundamentally a rather unpleasant description of a rape. There are undertones in it of Eve and the fall from grace, but the story is too short to have developed these well.

Aimee Bender
Aimee Bender

However, to offset against the stories that don’t quite work, there are a few that really stand out as very fine examples of the short story form. Here are a couple that I think would make this an enjoyable book for most fiction readers, and an essential read for those with a love of folk, faerie and magical realism…

The title story, The Color Master, is a prequel to Perrault’s Donkeyskin, in which a king wishes to marry his daughter and orders three dresses for her, one the colour of the moon, one the colour of the sun and lastly one the colour of the sky. Bender’s story takes us to the store where the dresses are made. The old Color Master is fading and has picked our narrator to succeed her. We see how the colours are selected and mixed, how the narrator learns to see the hidden colours within and how she gradually learns to put not just colour but emotions into the dresses she makes. It is a beautiful piece of writing, full of imagery and feeling, with a touch of humour, and complete within itself.

“…I did what the Color Master had asked, and went for blue, then black, and I was incredibly slow, but for one moment I felt something as I hovered over the bins of blue. Just a tug of guidance from the white of the dress that led my hand to the middle blue. It felt, for a second, like harmonizing in a choir, the moment when the voice sinks into the chord structure and the sound grows, becomes more layered and full than before. So that was the right choice.”

donkeyskin

The Devourings is a very traditional seeming tale of a human woman who marries a troll. When the troll accidentally eats their children, the woman must come to terms with her grief and decide whether she can stay with the troll. This is the most traditionally ‘folk’ of all the stories and has the most overt magic in it. Again the writing is wonderful, the fantastical nature of the story never being allowed to overwhelm the love at the heart of it. I found the ending of this tale (which is also the ending of the book) very special, but ‘twould be a major spoiler to describe it.

“As she unlaced her blouse, he touched fingertips to her trembling bare shoulders and explained in his low gravel that he only ate human beings he did not know. I know your name now, he murmured. I know your travels. You’re safe.”

The variability of the stories has made me swither over a rating for this book, but in the end the good stories are so good that they outweigh the weaker ones, and even these weaker ones are so well written that they can’t fail to bring some pleasure. Hence, five stars and highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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27 thoughts on “The Color Master by Aimee Bender

  1. The professor would never expect that you would like folk tales! Personally, I like folk tales/fairy tales for the dark humor. (I still laugh when I read the original Cinderella.)

    It sounds very interesting (the author is quite aware of it too) and I’d have to say that last story is an interest. The professor would have probably ended up killing the troll, though, and ruining the story.

    • The Professor would have been right! I’m not a huge fan of most folk tales – they have to be really well written, and so often they’re just not. But yes, I love the classic ones – Cinders (I saw an amazing ballet version of that a few years ago that really brought out the humour), Rapunzel etc. And some of the ones in this book were wonderful…but…and I really hate to be sexist about books…I do feel most of these stories might appeal more to women…but maybe not…

        • Well, it kept me awake and for ballet that’s pretty unusual. No, never even heard of Tangled…is it based on Cinderella?

          For one so sweet, you have a rather violent streak in there somewhere, C-W-W!

          • Then the professor would probably have enjoyed it too. I’ve never watched Tangled. It’s based on the story of Rapunzel, which you just brought to mind. (A bit too ladyish. Nothing interesting like hunting for worms…)

            Very violent. Very.

    • Thank you! I think it may have been your own review that inspired me to read this, so thank you again! I’ve never come across her before, but have immediately added another to my TBR list – is there one you would particularly recommend? Some of the images she created in the better stories will stay with me for a long time…

      • Wow. I’m pleased to have inspired you to read this/her!

        Hm…I prefer her short story collections to her novels; the form seems to work better for her. (The plot feels looser in the novels, though the quality of writing is still high.) So maybe start with the shorts (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt or Willful Creatures) and go from there?

  2. FictionFan – I’m not normally one for the theme of magic and mysticism in stories (although it certainly can be done effectively). But thinking of this collection as a group of folk tales puts it all in a bit of a different light. Certainly there seem to be some gems there.

    • I’m the same, Margot – it’s rare for me to enjoy this kind of thing. Some of the stories are ‘straight’ fiction though always with a quirky edge, but really it’s the skill of the writing that lifts these above the genre.

  3. I’m not a short story reader so if I do pick up a collection it tends to be one that brings together the work of a number of authors so that at least I get variety that way. I’m afraid you haven’t sold this one to me, but perhaps eventually I might find some of the better tales anthologised.

    • I’m not a great lover of short stories either, and some of these are very short. But others were long enough to have good characterisation and strong storylines. It was refreshing to go out of my own comfort zone for a bit though…

  4. It’s funny – I read a lot of fantasy, but I really dislike reworked folk/fairy tales. They almost never live up to the original, but some of these sound interesting, so maybe, round about 2020, I’ll give them a go.

  5. Well all I can do is wait and hope the goddesses and trolls (only joking) who preside over netGalley land loftily consider me WORTHY enough for this – you are quite right it seems to have a little Lady Fancifull will deffo like this for sure tag attached. Thanks for the hint!

    • I really think you will like this, especially the longer stories. The shorter ones can be a bit underdeveloped. I thought I’d seen it on Vine or LH, but I’ve just checked and no, I must have been mistaken sadly.

  6. Sounds good! As you know, I’ve been getting into my short stories recently. Hope you’re well, just to let you know I’ve put you on my blog roll as favoured sites to go to, hope that’s alright? 🙂

    • Of course it’s alright – thank you! 😀

      I’m reading another lot of short stories at the mo by Ken Kalfus – unusual for me, since it’s not a form I normally particularly enjoy. But these are also very good, though in a completely different way…review next week sometime, hopefully…

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