Issue 158: Bad Return

Will Allison, our new contributing editor, brought “Bad Return” to the table at One Story and took it through the editorial process. We’re thrilled that he has come on board, and also thrilled to be running a piece by Aimee Bender, a writer we’ve all admired for years. Here is Will to introduce this beautiful and mysterious tale–I hope you all enjoy it as much as we did. -HT

About halfway through the story featured in our new issue, Aimee Bender’s “Bad Return,” things start to get very strange. One minute, the protagonist, Claire, is sort of taking part in a sort-of antiwar rally. The next minute, she’s watching a hundred college coeds rolling naked and having sex in the dirt while a charlatan steals their wallets. And then things really start to get strange.

I must confess, a lot of surreal stories don’t do much for me. When the rules of a fictional world go willy-nilly, it’s like tennis without a net, or listening to someone else’s dream. “Tell a dream,” the story writer Lee K. Abbott once warned me, “lose a reader.”

But Aimee didn’t lose me, not even for a second. I think one of the (many) reasons I enjoyed “Bad Return” so much is that the story never feels surrealistic simply for the sake of surrealism. Rather, Aimee’s surrealism always serves character. The strange things that happen to Claire happen to her precisely because of who she is, the choices she makes, the actions she takes, and they have a profound impact on the story’s outcome. It doesn’t hurt that the story’s stranger scenes are also quite unnerving and suspenseful.

To read more about “Bad Return”—including Aimee’s thoughts on her own literary strangeness—please check out our Q&A with the author.

5 thoughts on “Issue 158: Bad Return

  1. Any theories regarding Howard knowing those details of Claire’s life? Could just chalk it up to surrealism, but I imagine, and hope, that something more profound is at work. I thought maybe he was some kind of future, “reincarnated” version of her–sad and alone unless she makes those changes–but that’s a stretch.

    Also, what did it mean for Nina to be allergic to the color green, and for Howard to “need it” for his vertigo? I could probably rattle off a hundred other questions.

  2. By the time I’d hit the fourth sentence, I was having trouble with this story(!) (“For example, we had nothing in common.” — example of what?!). It didn’t hang together for me. Why do we have to know anything about Hank hitting a doctor when nothing more is made of it? (And how did this sentence make it to the final draft: “The doctor, who had specialized in surgery for children with cancer.” (top of page 5)?)

    Is the narrator a sociopath?! I mean, seriously… to Howard she says, “I think I may have spilled some [flower petals]…”. (“Spilled,” she says.) “I’m very sorry, … I don’t know why I did that.” “[I]…take something precious and throw it all over the room like that.” (Now she’s telling us she threw the flowers… on purpose; she didn’t spill them.)

    And, of course, there’s the big question that Nick articulates in the previous post. Who/what is Howard?

    It’s not often that a story really irks me, but “Bad Return” certainly did!

  3. It read like the author was bored and just making things up as she was going along. The story did not add up to much at all, and unfortunately, even the surreal elements could not save it in the end.

  4. I read Aimee Bender’s GIRL WITH A FLAMMABLE SKIRT in school and loved it and was excited about seeing a story of hers in One Story. Her stuff is about letting go and having fun–and I had fun reading this! It made me think about my college friends and how weird it was senior year, trying to figure out what to do next.

  5. It’s a wonderful story. It could have been that she was just dreaming the Howard section, but I really don’t need an explanation. (By the way, Howard getting Fred’s name wrong was a nice touch.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *