Writing is fun. A high school student trying to get an essay done by deadline may not think so, but for me, it is simply a lot of fun. I enjoy writing a story as much as I enjoy reading one, as much as I enjoy watching a movie or playing a game of volleyball with my friends. One of the story-telling aspects I enjoy most is the interplay between characters. When characters meet for the first time or interact with family and friends, they have an impact on each other’s lives. Those impacts advance the story’s plot, of course, but what I find most fascinating is how the characters change or grow, sometimes imperceptibly, from those encounters.
One of my favorite scenes in Bender occurs in a flashback when the protagonist, Mace Danner, is in high school and meets Katie Birch, a girl who makes a definite impression on him. Here’s a little excerpt from that scene:
With Katie, it was her kindness that got to me. Her family had just moved in from San Francisco. The first day she came strolling down the hall at my high school with her flowing fiery hair and womanly proportions, she got ownership of the place. She could have taken over any clique, wrapped any guy around her finger, manipulated just about any girl.
What she actually did was stand up to the school’s bullies, male and female. On that first day, I saw her walk right up to a couple of guys who were slapping around a smaller boy at the back of the cafeteria, out of sight of the two teachers who were monitoring the place.
“Oh.My. God,” she said loudly as she shoved her way between the fatheads and their cringing, terrified target. “Seriously, guys? You’re actually doing this? This boy here is smaller than I am, and you two giants are knocking him around? Wow, that’s some challenge for you two, isn’t it? Yeah, everybody here can see that.” Outraged, she turned slowly, her hands spread apart to take in the ring of onlookers, which included me. She seemed to be daring us to take the side of the two lummoxes, which no one did. Then, apparently satisfied with that lack of response, she faced the two bullies again, both of whom were somewhere north of six feet and together weighed close to five hundred pounds. She didn’t appear intimidated in the least. “There’s an elementary school down the street. Why don’t you show us something really tough and take on a first-grader next.”
She fell silent after that, staring the two monsters down. They glared back at her, and for a moment, it seemed they were going to just push her aside and go back to knocking the little guy around. Then, incredibly, one of the guys backed up a step, shame filling his face like a blush. “Come on, dude,” he said, putting a hand on his friend’s big shoulder. “Let’s get outta here.”
They turned around and walked away. The little crowd of spectators slowly dispersed, some of them looking ashamed themselves. I felt hot with guilt. Any one of us could have put a stop to the bullying by just alerting a teacher. Instead, we stood there and watched, becoming just as wretched as those two oversized idiots. Not even the bullied guy called out for help. That made what Katie did all the more amazing to me.
I stared after her as she led the little guy to a table, introducing herself and asking if he was okay, doing everything she could to comfort him. They ate lunch together, and he became her first friend at the school.
Mace’s admiration of Katie leads to his becoming her friend and, later, her boyfriend. And through that relationship, Mace learns something vital about himself. Katie also plays a central role in an event that forever changes Mace’s life. Those plot points all flow from this single, random encounter. I like writing scenes like this because I can look back at my own life and see how chance meetings with certain people changed me and helped me to grow.
I always have an outline in my head as I write that lets me know where my characters are headed over the course of a story and what their lives will be at the end. What I also find fascinating is how some characters take control and change the whole direction of the story from what I originally had planned. Katie had that effect in Bender.
At nineteen, college freshman Mace Danner works as an escort, hiring himself out to customers who want a submissive they can dominate. Having no carnal urges himself, the sexual side of his job leaves him cold, but he sees the pain inflicted on him by his clients as punishment for causing his brother’s death when he was in high school. Pain is not enough, however, to wash away his guilt, and Mace starts binge drinking in an effort to escape his remorse.
The dorm’s resident advisor, Dex Hammel, sees Mace spiraling out of control and strives to help him. Despite the mutual attraction between them, Mace is disturbed that he still feels no sexual desire for anyone. Even with Dex’s support, Mace’s self-destructive behavior escalates, leading to a situation that endangers his life.
Review by Debbie Attenborough
Mason is using physical pain to deal with his emotional pain, by working as an escort, letting clients do as they please. He has no sexual desires for what he is doing, no sexual desire for anyone OR anything. Dex is an RA on Mason’s dorm. He is watching Mason’s spiral downwards, and cannot stop himself from helping the young man who he knows needs some help.
I’m not sure how I feel about this short story. This little book of 86 pages certainly packs a powerful punch, is a very well written read. I’m just not sure I liked.
Its told in the first person, present tense AND single point of view. That has to be the worst way for me. I did, however, finish the book, so that tells you something. I usually dump a book straight away I realize if it’s written this way. I will always prefer multi-point of view books.
It says on the Goodreads blurb that it’s for 16+. I will disagree with that. I’d say 18+. It has alcohol abuse, rape, and Mason escorting (although that is not described in great detail, neither is the rape) I wouldn’t want my 16 to read this. It’s too raw.
What I did like was how Mason, with the right help was managing to pull himself out of the darkness he found himself in and into some sort of happiness. His relationship with Dex, with his ex-girlfriend, even his friendship with Trey (you’ll see just WHY this one is so important when you read the book)
There is a lot of pain in this book, both physical and emotional and it does make for a difficult read. It has minimal sexual content, and I did like that. It is VERY well written, though and I do need to stress this point because this is not a negative review. The book just did not quite work for me. Some will LOVE this book, that I have no doubt.
This is the first of this author I have read, and I will certainly give them another go.
ps, there was just one thing. I have no idea, being a UK reader, what an RA is, but the official blurb mentions it, and it is used in the book so I put it here. Perhaps some clarification for non-US readers would help.
Gene Gant lives with his family in a small, rural community in West Tennessee. He has been a ghost writer for many years and is looking forward to publishing more works under his own name.