Money may be the last taboo subject, something we all think about but do not openly discuss. In Refund, Karen E. Bender takes on this conundrum, exposing its complexities and contradictions through the refining filter of literary art. Subtle, understated, vividly rendered, these stories move us both because we recognize the characters and their situations and because, in their relentless honesty and self-exposure, we see something—a discussion, a set of revelations—we have not seen before.
National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Bender: As a writer, what surprised me in the process of writing Refund is what surprises and thrills me, always, when writing fiction--how private and secret perceptions and thoughts can, when expressed, reach out and resonate in the thoughts of readers, I was surprised and happy, for example, when readers responded to the portrayal of family separation in "The Visit," or when they appreciated the mother in "The Third Child." The great goal of fiction, of this beautiful lie, is to understand and be understood.
These stories evolved mostly from 2002, the post 9-11 recession, economic inequality in this country was increasing, and concerns about money were showing up in my stories in a variety of ways. And now, 13 years later, the middle class is even more unstable, the country has still not solved the issue of economic opportunity for all of its citizens; that surprises and saddens me.
ABOUT THE BOOK
We think about it every day, sometimes every hour: Money. Who has it. Who doesn't. How you get it. How you don't. In Refund, Bender creates an award-winning collection of stories that deeply explore the ways in which money and the estimation of value affect the lives of her characters. The stories in Refund reflect our contemporary world-swindlers, reality show creators, desperate artists, siblings, parents—who try to answer the question: What is the real definition of worth? In "Theft," an eighty-year-old swindler, accustomed to tricking people for their money, boards a cruise ship to see if she can find something of true value—a human connection. In "Anything for Money," the creator of a reality show is thrown into the real world when his estranged granddaughter reenters his life in need of a new heart; and in the title story, young artist parents in downtown Manhattan escape the attack on 9/11 only to face a battle over their subletted apartment with a stranger who might have lost more than only her deposit. Set in contemporary America, these stories herald a work of singular literary merit by an important writer at the height of her power.
About the Author
Karen E. Bender is the author of the novels A Town of Empty Roomsand Like Normal People. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope, Ploughshares, Story, The Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, Guenica, and other magazines. Her stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, and have won two Pushcart prizes. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, novelist Robert Anthony Siegel, and their two children.