Aimee Bender’s story “The Rememberer” centers on the transformation of the narrator’s lover from a man to an assortment of animals, as he de-evolves. Arguably the most famous story of such a transformation is Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” in which the main character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning to discover that he has become a huge insect. Though Bender’s and Kafka’s writing styles are drastically different, the two stories share thematic similarities beyond the metamorphosis of man to beast.
In “The Rememberer,” Bender implies, through flashbacks to earlier conversations with Ben, that his transformation was not an entirely unwelcome event, but rather something desired. Though Gregor Samsa probably did not wish, specifically, to become an insect, the transformation brings him some obvious benefits, too. Gregor despises his job, so much so that his hatred of it supersedes even his horror at becoming a giant bug; even after making the discovery that he has transformed, his thoughts immediately turn back to his job: “Oh God . . . what a grueling job I’ve picked! Day in, day out—on the road.” Once he becomes an insect, he can no longer continue his job as a traveling salesman. He has escaped.
Ben seeks to escape not his job, but the tyranny of his own intellect. He tells Annie, the narrator, “We think far too much.” Since Ben is a man of conscience, his thinking extends beyond himself to the woes of the world. Annie says, “He was always sad about the world.” In his transformation, Ben seeks to escape the burden he has taken on, the troubles of the entire planet. Gregor Samsa’s burdens are closer to home; he supports his parents and his teenage sister, and in addition, he is paying off a debt his parents owe his employer. He thinks to himself, “If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would have quit long ago.” He imagines leaving his job once he pays off the debt, but since “that will probably take another five or six years,” Gregor’s immediate future looks pretty bleak. Interestingly, after their transformations, both men are contacted first by their employers, demanding to know where they are. Gregor’s manager barely allows him an hour’s grace before he actually arrives at the Samsas’ house, at 7:15 a.m., berating him. Annie fields calls from Ben’s office: “Why wasn’t he at work? Why did he miss his lunch date with those clients?” Once the employers find out the men cannot work (Gregor’s boss actually sees him in his insect state, whereas Annie tells Ben’s office that he is suffering from a “strange sickness”), they never contact them again. Implied is the idea that men, in contemporary society, are still valued mainly for their ability to be productive, to make a contribution; once they lose this ability, they are abandoned.
In both stories, the metamorphosis places a significant amount of stress on the transformer’s loved ones. Annie feels the need to pick up thinking where Ben left off: “I review my memories and make sure they’re still intact because if he’s not here, then it’s my job to...
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Aimee Bender is a writer and teacher of writing whose short stories have appeared in numerous publications. Bender’s The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: Stories is her debut collection of sixteen modern adult fairy tales which feature unusual characters, many with physical deformities. Library Journal reviewer Joanna M. Burkhardt wrote that the events and people in the collection ‘‘somehow acquire the bizarre, the grotesque, and the darkly satirical.’’The title of Bender’s collection is a reference to the cheap rayon skirts that combusted at the touch of a flame.
In ‘‘The Rememberer,’’ a woman watches her lover go through reverse evolution—from ape to sea turtle to salamander—and then releases him to the ocean and says goodbye. ‘‘What You Left in the Ditch’’ tells of a woman’s seduction of a teen grocery clerk after her soldier husband returns from war minus his lips. In ‘‘Quiet Please,’’ a librarian has encounters with a succession of men in the library’s back room, her way of dealing with grief after her father’s death. A woman steals a ruby in ‘‘The Ring’’ and then finds that everything it touches turns red. In another story a woman gives birth to her own elderly mother, while at the same time a hole appears in her husband’s body where his stomach had been.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that ‘‘as Bender explores a spectrum of human relationships, her perfectly pitched, shapely writing blurs the lines between prose and poetry.’’ Lisa Zeidner wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Bender’s stories ‘‘are powered by voice—by the pleasure of the electric simile.’’ Zeidner noted the ‘‘magic realism’’ of Bender’s Los Angeles, calling it ‘‘Malibu Marquez.’’ Zeidner categorized the stories she felt were most realistic as being about ‘‘Fatalistic Dating,’’ while the ‘‘weakest ones juxtapose...
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