From The Girl in the Flammable Skirt to Willful Creatures, the fiction writer Aimee Bender has proven herself a master of the short story. The fifteen meticulously crafted pieces in her latest collection, The Color Master (Anchor, $15), feature characters such as a woman who mends the torn-apart flesh of tigers and a child who cannot recognize other people’s faces—figures that provoke an elegant disquiet. Enter Bender’s spare, strange, and often heartbreakingly lovely small worlds, and when you re-emerge, it’s with something fundamentally shifted. Bender is that rare writer who can achieve much with few words—just one quality which makes this work so compelling, important, and utterly enjoyable.
The four novellas of Andre Dubus III’s Dirty Love (W.W. Norton, $25.95) are emotionally resonant and searingly honest narratives of obsession, longing, and regret. Hailing from a small town north of Boston, the characters in these interconnected stories are distinctly human and sensitively rendered. We see ourselves in them, for better and for worse. Whether it’s the corporate manager investigating his wife’s adultery, or the bartender/would-be poet cheating on his pregnant wife, or the high school girl hiding from her shame after an unfortunate episode while waiting tables and studying for her GED, we recognize a distinct human grandeur in the characters’ weakness. Each piece in this volume is wonderfully entertaining, but at its core the collection shows an amazing understanding of the way people live, think, and feel.
With novels like Continental Drift and The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks has earned his place among the top ranks of contemporary novelists. His new collection of short stories, A Permanent Member of the Family (Ecco, $25.99), explores the lives of men and women confronting crisis and change. A former Marine facing poverty becomes a serial bank robber until his two sons, both in law enforcement, discover the truth. A woman loses her husband after the couple become “snowbirds,” buying a condo in Florida, only to be surprised and confused by the freedom and happiness that follow his death. An artist announces to his friends that he’s won a prestigious grant, but goes away angry and frustrated, questioning whether he merits what’s been cast upon him. All the stories collected here evoke the strangeness and complexity of emotion.