Author Aimee Bender is renowned for her subversive approach to storytelling, and her new collection of short stories doesn’t disappoint. Like her previous collections, “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt” and “Willful Creatures,” “The Color Master” explores transgressions of custom, where characters — most often women — dare to step outside their expected roles, and transgressions of reality, where she employs subtle surrealism to create moments of vivid tension.
Bender’s women wield great power, and the surprising intensity of this power often scares them. In “On a Saturday Afternoon,” the narrator gracefully coerces two men she has lured back to her apartment into fulfilling her voyeuristic fantasy. “They said they would do what I asked them to,” she muses, “That’s the agreement.” And although it’s clear that their consent was contingent on reciprocation, she’s intent on remaining in “[t]he amazing space created for me when there is nothing demanded or seen.” In “Bad Return,” Claire is unnerved by her inner thoughts upon entering a stranger’s home. “I still felt that if anyone were at risk, it was actually him; I’d trusted what I read about following my own fear instinct, and instead of feeling fear, what I felt as a slight thrill or even a flicker of aggression, like I might harm him, like he should be cautious about inviting me up.”