The Color Master: Stories

The Color Master: Stories

3.8 6
by Aimee Bender

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The bestselling author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake returns with a wondrous collection of dreamy, strange, and magical stories.

Truly beloved by readers and critics alike, Aimee Bender has become known as something of an enchantress whose lush prose is “moving, fanciful, and gorgeously strange” (People), “richly

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The bestselling author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake returns with a wondrous collection of dreamy, strange, and magical stories.

Truly beloved by readers and critics alike, Aimee Bender has become known as something of an enchantress whose lush prose is “moving, fanciful, and gorgeously strange” (People), “richly imagined and bittersweet” (Vanity Fair), and “full of provocative ideas” (The Boston Globe). In her deft hands, “relationships and mundane activities take on mythic qualities” (The Wall Street Journal).

In this collection, Bender’s unique talents sparkle brilliantly in stories about people searching for connection through love, sex, and family—while navigating the often painful realities of their lives. A traumatic event unfolds when a girl with flowing hair of golden wheat appears in an apple orchard, where a group of people await her. A woman plays out a prostitution fantasy with her husband and finds she cannot go back to her old sex life. An ugly woman marries an ogre and struggles to decide if she should stay with him after he mistakenly eats their children. Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds.

In these deeply resonant stories—evocative, funny, beautiful, and sad—we see ourselves reflected as if in a funhouse mirror. Aimee Bender has once again proven herself to be among the most imaginative, exciting, and intelligent writers of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

So-called magical realism — the incursion of the fantastic into stories otherwise set within our recognizable world — can divide readers into camps of passionate advocates and those allergic to its hybrid allure. But Aimee Bender's fictions manage an artful balance, modern fairy tales grounded in characters and emotions that remain thoroughly, sometimes painfully convincing.

Throughout The Color Master, in fifteen stories, there are themes of the suffocating enthrallment of materialism and the aching desire to fit in and be accepted for who we are. In "The Red Ribbon," a woman takes her husband's casual mention of prostitution to another level when she starts charging him for sex. "I know it's odd," she says, "but for whatever reason, I can't seem to summon up any desire right now to do it without payment." In "Americca," spelled with an extra c, a family find themselves haunted by a ghost who keeps giving them extra belongings — cans of soup, fresh towels. "There was nothing appealing about getting more items every day, and I felt a vague sense of claustrophobia pick up in my lungs," the narrator relates.

Already the author of the novels The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and An Invisible Sign of My Own and the short-story collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures, Bender is obviously a master of this genre. But perhaps the most moving stories of this collection are the ones that could best be described as "magical thinking." In "The Fake Nazi," an elderly man turns himself into the police, claiming to have been a a Nazi — though his actual crimes are of a different, more elusive nature.

In the end, the pith of The Color Master comes not from the magical elements of Bender's imagination but instead from her ability to capture what makes us flawed and, ultimately, human.

Jessica Ferri is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared at The New Yorker's Book Bench, NPR,The Economist, The Daily Beast, Time Out New York, Bookforum, and more. Find her at

Reviewer: Jessica Ferri

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the hardcover edition.


I once knew a girl who wouldn't eat apples. She wove her walking around groves and orchards. She didn't even like to look at them. They're all mealy, she said. Or else too cheeky, too bloomed. No, she stated again, in case we had not heard her, our laps brimming with Granny Smiths and Red Deliciouses. With Galas and Spartans and yellow Golden Globes. But we had heard her, from the very first; we just couldn't help offering again. Please, we pleaded, eat. Cracking our bites loudly, exposing the dripping wet white inside.

It's unsettling to meet people who don't eat apples.

The rest of us now eat only apples, to compensate. She has declared herself so apple-less, we feel we have no other choice. We sit in the orchard together, cross-legged, and when they fall off the trees into our outstretched hands, we bite right in. They are pale green, striped red-on-red, or a yellow-and-orange sunset. They are the threaded Fujis, with streaks of woven jade and beige, or the dark and rosy Rome Beauties. Pippins, Pink Ladies, Braeburns, McIntosh. The orchard grows them all.

We suck water off the meat. Drink them dry. We pick apple skin out from the spaces between our teeth. We eat the stem and the seeds. For the moment, there are enough beauties bending the branches for all of us to stay fed. We circle around the core, teeth busy, and while we chew, we watch the girl circle our orchard, in her long swishing skirts, eyes averted.

One day we see her, and it's too much. She is so beautiful on this day, her skin as wide and open as a river. We could swim right down her. It's unbearable just to let her walk off, and all at once, we abandon our laps of apples and run over. Her hair is so long and wheatlike you could bake it into bread. For a second our hearts pang, for bread. Bread! We've been eating only apples now for weeks.

We close in; we ring her. Her lips fold into each other; our lips skate all over her throat, her bare wrists, her empty palms. We kiss her like we've been starving, and she tilts her head down so she doesn't have to look at us. We knead her hair and kiss down the long line of her leg beneath the shift of her skirt. We pray to her, and our breath is ripe with apple juice. You can see the tears start races down her face while our hands move in to touch the curve of her breasts and the scoop of her neckline. She is so new. There are pulleys in her skin. Our fingers, all together, work their way to her bare body, past the voluminous yards of cloth. Past those loaves of hair. We find her in there, and she is so warm and so alive and we see the tears, but stop? Impossible. We breathe in, closer. Her eyelashes brighten with water. Her shoulders tremble like doves. She is weeping into our arms, she is crumpling down, and we are inside her clothes now, and our hands and mouths are everywhere. There's no sound at all but the slip of skin and her crying and the apples in the orchard thumping, uncaught: our lunches and dinners and breakfasts. It's an unfamiliar sound, because for weeks now, we have not let even one single fruit hit dirt.

She cries through it all, and when we're done and piled around her, suddenly timid and spent, suddenly withered nothings, she is the first to stand. She gathers her skirts around herself, and smooths back down her hair. She wipes her eyes clear and folds her hands around her waist. She is away from the orchard before we can stand properly and beg her to stay. Before we can grovel and claw at her small perfect feet. We watch her walk, and she's slow and proud, but none of us can possibly...

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The Color Master: Stories 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Sharikc More than 1 year ago
Aimee Bender does it again! I love, love, love her writing style! She's not like any author you have read before. She really gets you thinking. One minute your talking about something but then realize that's not really what your talking about at all. I love that there are several short stories to get your wheels turning. It's such a breath of fresh air ti read something so unique. I just can't get enough of her books! So excited to have won this on goodreads! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I told my husband the book made me feel stupid ... as if there was a point or plot I was missing. But I did somehpw enjoy reading it and I knpw some of the images will be with me for some time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Full disclosure: I'm a diehard fan of Aimee Bender. I admire the way she defies categorization even while all of her fiction has a magical realism/fantasy element. Especially in a collection like this one, I admire the way she's able to assume a new, convincing authorial voice for each story. And I'm constantly amazed at the mysteries of her writing, which makes every story, no matter how long, seem too short. I experienced The Color Master for the first time by reading each story aloud to my husband. He enjoyed the stories, but maintains that Ms. Bender doesn't know how to come to an end. Every time, he said some variation of, "That's it? That's where she chose to end it?" On a writerly level, I appreciate that she ends each story when she feels it's complete. These stories are evocative, meant to point to a bigger truth or to a whole world beyond what the reader's just read. Anyone who's expecting an entire world described and signed, sealed, delivered, should read a novel, and probably not a novel by Aimee Bender. It's just not what she's trying to do. This is Bender's third collection of stories. In the first two collections, I thought there were some hits and misses (although even the misses were ecstatic and thrilling in their own way). Here, the quality is consistently high to the extent that going back through, I can't point out a weak one. Each one is memorable and impressive for any number of reasons, and together they make up a tour-de-force book even better than a die-hard fan like me could have hoped for.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good example of an excellent imagination. Loved "The particular sadness of lemon cake." It seems to stay with me for some reason. Also, the ahort stories in "The girl with the flamable skirt," and the novel and movie "An invisible sign." Amazing work from this author and look forward to more!
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
I should state up front that Aimee Bender is one of my favorite authors, right up there with Haruki Murakami. Even though I knew I'd likely fall in love with this new collection of short stories (and I did!), I was blown away by the extent of her versatility and imagination in The Color Master. From teenagers at the mall in "Lemonade" to ogres in "The Devourings," each of the fourteen stories is set in its own fantastical world with its own voice, tone, and set of rules. The title story, "The Color Master" was by far my favorite. This is a spin-off of the French fairytale "Donkeyskin" by Charles Perrault. It was a little more plot-driven than the others, yet had a beautiful, glittery air of magic to it. The tailors had to make dresses the color of the sun, the moon, and the sky (!!!)... pretty incredible. This collection is reminiscent of fables of old, containing social commentary and deeper lessons to be learned. Bender definitely has a surrealist bent, so read these offbeat, eccentric stories knowing that, in some cases, you may be waking up before the dream is completely over! As much as I relished each story, I was still surprised by how astonishingly bizarre and avant-garde they are. If you are new to Aimee Bender's work, you may want to read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (novel) and Willful Creatures (short stories) first. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.