Aimee Bender read at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble tonight, and as I’d feared, it was packed and everyone had to cram into that tiny space they have there. But it was nice to see her in person.
She read “Off” from her new book, Willful Creatures. The story was actually not one of my favorites in an otherwise exceptionally good collection, mostly because I don’t think the narrator is really very endearing to the reader. And I don’t think it was a great representative for a set of stories most of which are filled with fantastical elements (magical realism, surrealism). The story elicited some occasional laughs from the audience, but not as many as I would imagine. I missed the middle of the story, though, after my contact lens got dislodged and I had to run to the bathroom to straighten things out. I made it back in time for the Q&A.
I asked her whether she goes into a story with the fantastical motif in mind, or whether she has a narrative in mind and then finds a peculiarity to drive that story. She said it’s almost always the former. Something about the physical world has been altered (pumpkins for heads, keys for fingertips), she said, and it’s her task to figure out how those new rules affect the characters and their story. Later, she acknowledged that she had dampened her writing at one point in her development to try to make it more “adult” and “grown-up,” but later openly embraced the genre of fairy tales. And she’s been all the more successful because of it, I think.
The reading was also an opportunity for her to plug off-off-Broadway performances of her first collection of short stories, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, as adapted for the stage. The show’s at Walkerspace – a small Tribeca black box theater – next month, beginning Oct. 12. Tickets are $15, according to TheaterMania.