Writing in metaphor

By By Adam Fifield

By Adam Fifield

Whenever author Aimee Bender talks about her writing process, she usually uses a metaphor to elaborate her point.

Bender relies on her unconscious dream life for material. The unconsciousness, she said in an interview with Pif Magazine, “is like a teenager…eventually it’ll start putting out.”

Bender will read tonight at the Art Barn for the final installment of the English department’s guest writers series, which has brought the U great writers such as former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand and Pulitzer Prize Winner Edward P. Jones. Poet Jane Springer will also read tonight.

Throughout her career as a writer, Bender has found success in major publication veins as well as the literary world. Willful Creatures, her latest collection of short stories, was nominated by The Believer magazine as one of the best books of 2005. Her first book, The Girl In The Flammable Skirt, was a New York Times Notable Book of 1998. Her short stories have been published in magazines such as GQ, Harper’s and the Paris Review, and her fiction has been featured on NPR radio programs “This American Life” and “Selected Shorts.” Currently she teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California.

The easiest way to classify Bender’s work is as magical realism, a style that incorporates supernatural phenomenon into a realistic setting without characters reacting unnaturally to them, but her stories are too diverse to be contained in one label. Lisa Zeidner wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Bender “aims to be sneakily incendiary and often succeeds.” Zeidner is certainly right about being sneaky — Bender’s writing style is simple and approachable, seemingly realistic, but she uses outlandish metaphors to illustrate more universal emotions and understandings.

“My lover is experiencing reverse evolution,” Bender begins her story The Rememberer. “I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month, and now he’s a sea turtle.”

As the story carries on, it becomes apparent that the boyfriend’s “reverse evolution” is a metaphor for something much more broad than silliness. Perhaps, it represents their declining relationship or a commentary on her inability to connect with a bestial past.

Either way, Bender’s narrators are subjective and open for many possible interpretations. In fact, The Rememberer is so sparse in its language and void of flowery rhetoric that it’s much more appealing to accept her metaphor and buy into Bender’s dream world. For example, in the context of her story Ironhead, it’s natural for Bender to write, “When the pumpkinheads had sex, it was at a slight angle so that their heads would not bump.”

“I am writing images without necessarily analyzing them, and later I can look at a certain sentence, and the meaning is suddenly laid bare,” said Bender in the Pif Magazine interview.

Her sense of non-intention allows Bender to string many fairy-tale elements and bizarre twists in an utterly natural way that seems entirely realistic. This is why Bender usually writes in the morning, because that’s the “closest to dreams I can get,” she said.

[email protected]