PERSONAL: Education: University of California, Irvine, M.A.; M.F.A.
CAREER: Writer and teacher; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, English professor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Pushcart Prize, 2003, for "Jinx," 2005, for "End of the Line."
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
An Invisible Sign of My Own (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.
Willful Creatures: Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.
(With others) The Secret Society of Demolition Writers: Stories, edited by Marc Parent, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Story, Antioch Review, Missouri Review, Threepenny Review, Granta, and Gentlemen's Quarterly.
ADAPTATIONS: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt was adapted for theatre by Frederique Michel.
SIDELIGHTS: 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 multiple plot lines." In The Girl in the Flammable Skirt Bender "aims to be sneakily incendiary and often succeeds," continued the critic: "Many of these stories are as catchy as [the book's] title, with a winning cheekiness."
Bender's next work was the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own. In this work, Bender tells the story of twenty-year-old Mona Gray, a second grade mathematics teacher in a small town. Leading an unhappy life full of anxiety and depression, Mona is also obsessed with numbers. Reviewing this work for Booklist, Michelle Kaske noted that An Invisible Sign of My Own is a "wonderful … treatment of anxiety, depression, and compulsion."
In her collection Willful Creatures: Stories, Bender offers fifteen stories that explore the unusual, and frequently cruel, interactions between people who love each other. The tales are "daringly original," and "bursting with heart and marvel," according to a Publishers Weekly writer. Some of the stories are somewhat realistic, others more surrealistic. Characters include a boy with key-shaped fingers, who wishes to unlock his father's secrets; a group of cruel teenaged girls; and a couple whose child is killed by the weight of his own huge head. With these tales, Bender shows that she is "intent on rewriting the grim fable of modern life," noted a Kirkus Reviews writer, who praised the author for writing "with bite and wit."
Bender's work has been described as having a mythical quality, something the author cultivates in her stories. As she told Dave Weich in an interview for Powells.com: "Saying 'the man' or 'the woman,' sometimes I like those words better than the words of names, even though it's true that once you name someone they're more specific and the reader can identify with them more. Maybe it's just an attraction to a kind of fairy-tale storytelling—it feels like names would be slightly too specific for the story…. It feels like a texture to me. The texture would go a little wrong if the character was named, if the story wants to be more mythic. As soon as someone is named, the story enters the world of reality a little more. As soon as a capital letter comes into play, it looks different and it feels different."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America's Intelligence Wire, September 21, 2005, Karinya Funsett, interview with Aimee Bender.
Atlantic Monthly, October, 2005, Christina Schwarz, review of Willful Creatures: Stories, p. 124.
Booklist, May 1, 2000, Michelle Kaske, review of An Invisible Sign of My Own, p. 1648; November 15, 2000, Bonnie Smothers, review of An Invisible Sign of My Own, p. 615; July, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of Willful Creatures, p. 1896.
Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1998, Margot Mifflin, review of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: Stories, p. 68; August 19, 2005, Jessica Shaw, review of Willful Creatures, p. 149.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2005, review of Willful Creatures, p. 554.
Library Journal, June 15, 1998, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, p. 109; May 15, 2000, Beth E. Anderson, review of An Invisible Sign of My Own, p. 123; August 1, 2005, Faye A. Chadwell, review of Willful Creatures, p. 74.
New York Times Book Review, August 23, 1998, Lisa Zeidner, "What We Talk about When We Talk about Lust," p. 10.
People, August 15, 2005, Allison Lynn, review of Willful Creatures, p. 49.
Philadelphia Inquirer, August 28, 2000, Carlin Romano, review of An Invisible Sign of My Own.
Ploughshares, winter, 1998, Fred Leebron, review of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, p. 223.
Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1998, review of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, p. 61; May 8, 2000, review of An Invisible Sign of My Own, p. 202; June 6, 2005, review of Willful Creatures, p. 34.
Time, September 19, 2005, Rebecca Myers, review of Willful Creatures, p. 77.
Agony, http://trashotron.com/agony/ (February 25, 2006), Rick Kleffel, review of Willful Creatures.
Aimee Bender Home Page, http://www.flammableskirt.com (February 23, 2006).
Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (February 25, 2006), Angela Stubbs, interview with Aimee Bender.
Hobart, http://hobartpulp.com/ (February 25, 2006), interview with Aimee Bender.
PIF, http://www.pifmagazine.com/ (February 25, 2005), Ryan Boudinot, interview with Aimee Bender.
Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (February 25, 2006), Dave Weich, "Aimee Bender's Cabinet of Wonder."
University of Southern California English Graduate Studies Web site, http://www.uscenglish.com/ (February 25, 2006), biographical information on Aimee Bender.