Willful Creatures is a collection of short stories by Aimee Bender. These came highly recommended and I was looking forward to reading this volume. Sadly, though, they didn't stick with me.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading them. I did, in a way, but life has been busy and now, just a few weeks later, I cannot remember any of them without flipping the book open to renew my memory.
What I do recall from reading the book is that the behavior and motivations of the characters seemed rather arbitrary. I know these are short stories so I don't expect the kind of character development I'd get in a novel, but then again I do expect to see something, some explanation for what they do or why they do it. That was lacking.
The situations were interesting - they must have been or I would have abandoned the book - but there was something lacking in the motivations that kept me from being sucked in as deeply as I might have otherwise.
I suspect that Bender has a consistent style. If you've read other works by her and liked them it is likely you will like this. Alternately if you didn't like her other works, then you probably won't appreciate this one much. If you're not sure, reading it won't cost you much time - it is a quick read, and most stories are very short - and you can make up your own mind. For me, I think I am done with Bender's short fiction. It's not bad, but there is lot that I would rather read.
Fifteen stories bursting with heart and marvel make up this daringly original collection by Bender (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt). Nameless characters lend the tales an allegorical feel and heighten the emotional impact, as in one story's breathlessly cinematic love scene between a seducer (identified only by an expletive, "the mother") and his prey ("the starlet"). With stories that turn on stark cruelty, Bender deftly forces uncomfortable identification with unsympathetic protagonists who torment the weak: like "Debbieland" 's collective "we" of predatory girls, and the man in "End of the Line" who purchases a miniature man as a pet and tortures him. Elsewhere, she evokes tender relationships with a balance of earthy heartbreak and otherworldly strangeness. In "Dearth," the sudden appearance of seven potato-children forces the solitary protagonist into messy motherhood; in "Ironhead," a pumpkin-headed couple grieves for their dead child, whose heavy head, literally a clothes iron, kills him with its debilitating weight; in "The Leading Man," a boy with key-shaped fingers wishes only to unlock the secret of his father's wartime trauma. Bender's surrealism is never gratuitous in the fantastical yet truthful stories of this singular collection.