Alexander Rigby’s Bender is a story not just of love, but of soul mates. Two souls so intertwined they have spent multiple lifetimes across the ages, always drawn together. Like so many romance novels, the lovers, although seemingly destined to be together, appear tragically doomed to fail.
The things we desire the most, are what we do not have, the instances of who we wish to be, are the people we will never become.
There are two components that set Bender apart from just another love story. The first is that although their love is pre-determined, after each reincarnation their genders aren’t similarly rigid, instead dynamically shifting throughout the novel. This provides an additional depth to the novel, for example allowing the author to explore the relationship of two homosexual men in Florence, in a time when their passion may be punishable by death.
The second aspect is the Bender machine itself, the pivotal centrepiece for the entire story. The machine promises to reveal a person’s past life, allowing our two souls to finally understand their pasts and connection to each other. It is the Bender timeline that must bring all the stories together and deliver the all important conclusion.
All of the above, and the entire concept of the novel itself is intriguing. Even now, after reading the book I am enticed by the very premise of it. However, there are numerous flaws that not only prevented me from reaching the book’s conclusion but also meant that my reading experience was an uphill slog.
Despite the tenuous link between each lifetime, dangled in front of us by the futuristic Rio story line, they all essentially read as isolated short stories. At each rebirth, the characters are born anew; there are no parallels drawn between their personalities, or circumstances, from one life to the next, and although this keeps each segment fresh from the others, it also hinders achieving a cohesive plot.
The way the story is constantly jumping between timelines also made it difficult to get truly immersed, with each chapter too short to offer much on its own. In the end, I found myself growing bored of certain timelines and rushing ahead to others, namely to try and see how Bender was going to be used to tie everything together.
Technically, the author shows a great grasp of writing skill.
She was jealous I was a blank slate, fresh and clean and naïve of the realities of what had occurred in the lives before. I was jealous she was a painted canvas, complex and colorful and aware of the mysteries of what had transpired in the instances we previously lived
I love the above metaphor, it makes sense, it’s poetic and, most importantly, it gives a connection to one of her past lives: Renzen the artist.
Yet, there’s an excessive attempt to achieve poetic metaphors and similes, leaving the book with an overabundance of them, and many fall flat or disrupt the flow with tangential references. The occasional one that works well is unfortunately overshadowed by the sheer number of those that don’t.
Elevators were no longer hidden away within the tombs of buildings like forgotten children alone in the dark, instead they existed on the exoskeleton of architecture.
I’m not sure who is leaving their children alone in the dark, certainly it bears no relevance to the story. The random simile ultimately only distracts the reader. Here are a few other examples:
The hallway outside was a dark shade of maroon, the flooring a cold kind of stone that lit up whichever tile I was standing on with a tepid blast of heat, as if I was trapped in the intestines of some monstrous whale, with no sense of direction, nowhere to go.
An undeniable sticky plaster had arrived between the contours of our bodies, the boundaries begging to be crossed, so we could crash into one another, like two vessels previously lost at sea.
It isn’t only the metaphors that can sometimes attempt to over embellish. Although good for the most part, the prose has a tendency to become overly convoluted in an attempt to camouflage the mundane.
There were others swimming in the lanes on either side of me, but their motions were not aligned with mine, our outstretched bodies at different portions of the pool, their styles of swimming nothing similar. Yet still, we all moved through the water, rejecting the repetitious H2O molecules that piled up in such great quantities.
In the end I persevered through 78% of the book, hoping that the four past lives would interweave and bring the story together, or bring some twist to shake away the tedium. Unfortunately, I was left disappointed and, after reading so far, I’d reached my breaking point.
Perhaps the story culminates perfectly, perhaps not, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The reader needs to be captivated each step of the way, to pull them to that important conclusion.
This review was a tough one to write and ultimately came out more critical than others to which I have given low ratings. The reason for this is simple; the book has so much potential and the author, so much talent.
It’s easy to slate a terribly written book with no plot line, it’s hard to critique a well written book with a great concept. And, this was a hard critique.