It’s true. I don’t. But I do like to mention books I’ve enjoyed, and I’ve not enjoyed anything more than Willful Creatures, by Aimee Bender in a long time.

So where to start? Well, the book’s a collection of short stories, fifteen in all. And they’re fantastic and I mean, REALLY fantastic. I ordered the book from my library after reading a review of it in The Short Review. The first story grabbed my attention, it was like being grabbed by the throat, to tell the truth. And after reading it I thought, wow, this is good, I hope she can keep it up.

And she does. And I mean REALLY. Each story seemed better than the last, which when I considered each one a gem, is quite a thing.

Three stories in I ordered my own copy. Now, this wasn’t solely so I could have my own copy, though that was a big part of things. You see, I wanted to read the book slowly. Slowly. I wanted to savour the experience. Take one story at a time. One every few days, giving myself a real treat. And I didn’t want a library fine.

After each story I think I spent longer sitting, turning the book in my hands, being in that strange, warm, glowing place of reflective admiration, than I did reading the stories themselves.

And on to the stories themselves. If I were to describe them they’d sound odd and strange and trippy. And they are a bit: there’s a women who has potatoes for babies; a family of pumpkin-headed people who have an iron-headed son; a man with a noisy brain…

But as bizarre as they sound, they (and the less out-there sounding ones) have one common factor: they all have an affecting emotional heaviness. And they all feel very, very real. (Okay, I know that’s two – so what!) They’re all boldly, and excellently, dazzlingly written (there’s a touch of Hemingway’s directness) and utterly captivating. And they all have resonance. I think they’re all applicable to our lives, to our world. It genuinely felt as though it could have been written for me.

When I finished it last week I was genuinely disappointed. That was it. All gone. No more.

It’ll be a long time before I read something as good, I think. It’s not all bad though – there are two other Aimee Bender books out there for me to read…

***

While I’m talking about short story collections, I wanted to re-post what I wrote about Leading the Dance, by Sarah Salway, at the beginning of the year, because I felt the same way about that as I did about Willful Creatures.

“Like ChocolatesSome books, more specifically short story collections, are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. And I found myself thinking this about Leading The Dance, by Sarah Salway this week.

You see, I never read the stories in collections in order. I don’t know why, I just don’t. Last week, after many weeks of dipping in to it, I realised that sadly I was nearing the end. I probably only had one or two stories left to read, though, as I’d not read it in order, I didn’t know how many.

So, like those last few chocolates in a box you’ve really loved, I tried to save them. You know, as a treat. I didn’t want to be greedy and scoff them all in no time. And I didn’t want to lift the lid and see how many (or few) I had left. I wanted to enjoy them. And enjoy them I did but…

The box is empty now, and I’m disappointed.

I want more.

I loved the first book (Something Beginning With) of Sarah’s I read. And I love this, I think, as much. It is, I think, the best collection of short stories I’ve read. It’s delicate and tender in places, and heart twistingly sad in others. It’s not short on laughs either. And if there’s one thing that’s present right the way through the book it’s the uncanny way that you can empathise with or recognise almost all of the characters.It is expertly written and hugely enjoyable. The prose sparkles mostly, while at times it is nothing short of dazzling. And touching. A fantastic collection.”
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