Willful Creatures

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Aimee Bender is a writer known for concocting unusual, often beyond-belief stories of men and women who suddenly discover themselves in the most extraordinary circumstances. The fifteen stories in Willful Creatures do not disappoint in their weirdness, their illogic, and their refusal to conform to our expectations.

Some stories are more grounded in what might be called the “real world” than are others. In “Off,” a woman attends a party with the explicit intent of kissing three different men. She is a powerful, wealthy young woman—one of Bender's very “willful creatures”—and she succeeds in bagging the first two men she selects; but when she misses the mark with her third target, she buries herself beneath a mountain of partygoers’ coats, a “bad” woman overwhelmed by desire.

In other stories, Bender describes a kind of middle ground, where characters move back and forth between the real and the not-so-real. In “The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers,” for example, an older married couple are found dead in their home, apparent homicide victims. The detective investigating the case finds fourteen salt and pepper shakers in the couple's house, as well as a live-in chef who tries to explain the ways in which the couple's relationship was weirdly defined and documented by these shakers. Bender twists the lives of these people, even implicating the detective in a world where human relationships warp and bend,...

(The entire section is 409 words.)