May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks | Book review
An emerging writer covers staggering ground in quick spurts.
Fitting almost 30 stories into fewer than 150 pages, Amber Sparks packs her debut short story collection full of surprises. It’s tempting to call these stories fables, not just because of their length but because of the author’s simple, lyrical writing style and often fantastic subjects. But the collection is as wildly diverse as it is imaginative, with Sparks touching on domestic tableaus and the fallout of violence as frequently as she does magic bathtubs, feral children and new myths for the origin of Earth and its people. Short as these stories are, it can be tiring to read them all in one sitting. Fortunately, her range of subjects and unique take on each narrative make them strong enough to stand on their own.
The real challenge of the short-short form is fleshing out the characters. Sparks’s vivid details always leave an impression, such as a daughter pursued by ghosts her whole life, some leaving a “long narrow burn mark” on her arm as they skid past her skin. But that girl and many of the other characters in Bodies are often archetypes—sometimes nameless ones: the father, the baby, the hero. When Sparks finds more mythical motivations for their actions and dispositions, such as the isolated family cursed by a great-grandmother who leaves their hearts “full of ashes,” they feel even harder to relate to. That’s when the stories blur together. But at their best, Sparks’s shorts take just a couple of pages to push your imagination to consider the unseen, otherworldly ways our planet might work. In exploring everything from small family dramas to the supernatural, she makes all of it feel possible.