Refund: Stories

30 Jul 2014

A literary event over ten years in the making: the debut collection of short fiction by the critically acclaimed novelist Karen E. Bender.

We think about it every day, sometimes every hour: Money. Who has it. Who doesn’t. How you get it. How you don’t.

Bender uses this very powerful force to pull together a unified collection of stories that deeply explore the ways in which money and the subsequent 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 struggle to figure out how to obtain money, how to give it, earn it, lose it, all the while trying 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, discovers she has Alzheimer’s and 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 popular reality show is thrown into the real world when his estranged granddaughter reenters his life in need of a new heart; in “The Sea Turtle Hospital,” a young teacher and her charge survive another school lockdown to seek out comfort in stranded sea animals, as they learn to cherish themselves and all living things; and in the provocative 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 New York City, the American South, and Los Angeles, these award-winning stories explore what we can afford and what we cannot and herald a work of singular literary merit by an important writer at the height of her power.

Refund was a Finalist for the National Book Award for fiction; it was also on the short list for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize and the longlist for the Story Prize.

“The tales told in Karen Bender’s “Refund,” a collection of stories that centers on money and family, are exquisitely composed portraits of modern life, and chances are you will encounter characters that remind you a little or a lot of yourself. That’s the brilliance of Bender’s storytelling….Bender’s ability to transform observations of life into uncomfortably realistic stories cannot be denied.”  Chicago Tribune

“The stories are replete with poignant, tragic moments…her graceful and sensitive treatment of her characters reminds us that in difficult times, it’s important to remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle.” The Boston Globe

“A masterful new collection.”  Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“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…Bender’s willingness to go deep, to burrow down into what’s right and wrong about 21st century America and Americans is a mirror that draws us in and does not allow us to look away.” The Los Angeles Times

“In the 13 electrifying tales of Refund, she examines the themes of wealth and poverty, health and disease, and the suddenness with which our lives can change — or even end….Bender ends on notes of hope and despair: hope because one is still loved and can love, despair at a life fraught with worry and disappointment. The author’s sharp observations and fine, crisp writing keep these stories crackling with energy and wit, while they excavate the buried secrets of 21st century America.”  The Miami Herald

“Money is ostensibly the fuel that powers Karen E. Bender’s new collection, “Refund…” but Bender’s subtler preoccupation is the eroding effect of emotional want…Bender understands worlds about marriage and emotional need.” The New York Times Book Review

“There are some astonishing characters in this collection–the elderly grifter in “Theft,” the ailing child in “Anything for Money,” and the sisters in “A Chick From My Dream Life”…the stories’ strengths stem from Bender’s beautiful writing and her ability to convey the wonder and dread of ordinary life, the things we might notice–whether with terror or with joy–if we weren’t too busy worrying about paying the bills.”–Publisher’s Weekly

“Bender probes the depths people will sink to for love and money in this poignant, absorbing collection of finance-themed tales. Worth investing time in.”  People magazine

A fictional bonanza for penny-pinching times.” More magazine

“Each day Bender’s cast of ordinary people struggle to make sense of their debts, their fears, and how to be satisfied with what they’ve got, in short stories that are both lean and expansive.”  O magazine

“Bender’s tales are stark, heart-wrenching, quirky….but they all work together, as Bender leads us to a unifying conclusion: you can’t put a price on human life or love.” Booklist


“Bender’s evocative prose takes us immediately to a place that we recognize, even if we haven’t yet lived there ourselves…I loved Refund. Highly recommended.” The Billfold

“The theme of money unifies Karen E. Bender’s extraordinary new collection of short stories, Refund…Bender’s style is forceful but simple as she shares her ironic, compassionate insights into money, security and family life.” Mirabile Dictu

“Money, money! The things we’ll do to get it, the distortions (especially when children are involved) of the space between desire and satisfaction: these are Karen Bender’s subjects, which she handles with savage wit, great economy, and a brilliant instinct for the telling situation. Her stories floored me.”Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel and Servants of the Map

“Every once in a while a book steps onto the stage and convinces readers all over again that literature is the great companion and interpreter of life. This is one of those books. In these eleven absolutely masterful stories by Karen E. Bender, the reader gets the most intimate education in politics, language, love, family. The book cares about every single idea it comes across— in a way it is political to the core. On the other hand, the writing is affectionate and attentive to the way life feels, to the way a phrase can grasp a moment so entirely. This is the book of the season, and the book everyone should read who wants to understand the depth and capability of the short story.”Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and The City Is A Rising Tide

“In an American moment where money rules and anxieties fester, Karen Bender has stepped in to tell all our stories with unsettling honesty, an eye for our absurdities, and an openness to the moments of grace that keep us going. Bender is a master storyteller and Refund is a superb collection.”Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me

“These stories are among the best short fiction I’ve read in a generation. From the chains of straw and coins and angels that bind us to earth, Bender weaves not only gold, but the rings of Saturn.”Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Second Nature

“In Refund, Karen Bender offers us a vision of contemporary life that is tragic and deeply funny, disturbing and – most of all – true. These are stories about us, women and men living with the trappings of comfort and security, while anxiety thrums under the surface and a sense of calamity looms. This collection moved and enthralled me throughout.”Danzy Senna, author of Caucasia and the story collection: You are Free


Barnes & Noble