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.