November 10, 2015
Karen E. Bender, Refund.
Refund, novelist Karen E. Bender’s first short story collection, is a National Book Award finalist. Its theme: how money becomes the defining issue of the early twenty-first century. Bender reads from the book at Prairie Lights on a trip back to Iowa City, where she studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop.
Money is the collection’s organizing principal. But, points out Caitlin Macy (New York Times Book Review) “Bender’s subtler preoccupation is the eroding effect of emotional want. With the exception of a few stories set in New York and Los Angeles, the neighborhoods that Bender’s characters inhabit are notable only for their Target- and Walmart-accessible featurelessness. Home is “a community splashed onto an area that should have remained desert” or “a midsized city in South Carolina.” These are places “people ended up,” not places they move to with any conviction. Businesses fail (in one story it’s website construction; in another, appliance repair), and collaterally, so do marriages.”
Meredith Maran (Los Angeles Times) notes: “Taken separately, each of the Refund stories is an impeccably constructed miniature, a ship in a bottle that makes the reader wonder how the author got all that detail, all that craft, into such a small container. Taken as a whole, the collection is a 13-stop journey into some richly imagined worlds.”