Buzzed Books #6: Writing (Not-So-) Magical Realism

Buzzed Books #6 by Alise Hamilton

Writing (not-so)Magical Realism

The Color Master

Within these fifteen stories, a girl sews the stripes back onto tigers, a boy can’t recognize faces, a teacher attempts to explain the origins of the universe, and mysterious, yet ordinary, objects keep appearing in one American family’s home. Aimee Bender is well known as a fabulist, magic realist writer and one of the masters of the short story form. The Color Master is Aimee Bender doing what Aimee Bender does best.

There seems to me to be less world creating in this collection than in some of her earlier work. Instead, the stories are often presented with individual magical elements attributed to particular characters (who are living in the world as we know it), more Bender’s bestselling novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. In fact, a few stories in the collection—“Lemonade,” “The Red Ribbon,” and “On a Saturday Afternoon”—while quirky, lack any traditional fantastic elements at all. Yet, like Bender’s strictly surrealist fiction, these stories are told in a style often attributed to fairy tales. The plotting is face-paced and the language is matter-of-fact, but the overall effect of the stories is that they are weighty and important; despite their quirks, Bender’s stories feel classic.

“Origin Lessons,” is a four-page story told in the plural first person from a group of school children eager to know how it all began, origins of life and the beginning of the universe. The story, again, is not does not literally contain “magic,” but the telling is whimsical and elements of space—its expanding and accelerating, matter and radiation—so foreign to the students it may as well be spells and wizards. In the story, the students struggle to comprehend the rules of the universe by comparing them to familiar images and symbols: suitcases and brides. The story, then, becomes a larger metaphor for storytelling itself. Aren’t writers all trying to find the familiar images with which to express love, grief, desire…all the greater elements of life? Isn’t our limited language at once frustrating and beautiful?

Pair with: 95 beer steins at the ogre tavern

Find THE COLOR MASTER now at your local independent bookstore or buy online at


Alise Hamilton

Alise Hamilton (Episode 7, essay) earned her MFA from Lesley University and holds a BFA in creative writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College. Her short fiction appeared in the Francesca Lia Block-edited anthology Love Magick.

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