I adored Amber Sparks’ second collection, The Unfinished World and Other Stories, which my parents bought for me from the wonderful Strand Bookstore in New York last year. I was therefore markedly impatient to get my hands on her debut short story collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies. Despite the moderate expense for a secondhand book, and the fact that I had to order it from the USA, I decided that it would be the perfect treat to read whilst on holiday in France in August.
May We Shed These Human Bodies has been very well received. Matt Bell writes that it ‘is a collection of marvellous inventions, each one a wonder-machine propelled by fairytale and dream and human and hope, ready to carry us off into new adventure’, and Ben Loory captures his thoughts thus: ‘I always love a book that makes me fear for the writer’s sanity. I’m over here praying for Amber Sparks.’.
There is almost an ethereal quality to Sparks’ books; her prose is complex and multilayered. Some of the stories within May We Shed These Human Bodies are strange, and all are startling. There are some very short stories to be found within her debut, which run to less than two full pages. Others are quite a bit longer. The individuality of each tale shines through; whilst none of them are alike, the collection is coherent, and reads like a singular unit. This is helped, in part, with the unusual, intriguing, and quirky titles Sparks gives to her stories. Here, they range from ‘The Monstrous Sadness of Mythical Creatures’ and ‘Gone and Gone Already’, to ‘All the Imaginary People are Better at Life’ and ‘The Ghosts Eat More Air’.
I could quote extensively from May We Shed These Human Bodies, beautiful and thought-provoking as it is, but rather than ruin some great surprises for those of you whose interest is piqued, I shall whet your interest by sharing the initial paragraph of ‘The City Outside of Itself’: ‘The City longed to travel. He hadn’t been anywhere in ages, and wanted to see what things looked like outside of himself. So the City asked his best friend Tammie if she would mind giving him a lift. Tammie took her gum out of her mouth and twirled it around and around her index finger, pink on peach on pink, while she thought about it.’
May We Shed These Human Bodies is a beguiling and absorbing collection, from an author who already has such a distinctive voice. Sparks’ use of language is often beautiful and original, and sometimes loaded with meaning. A great balance of reality and magical realism has been struck. All of these stories here chill, and sing, and sparkle, and Sparks’ playfulness serves to make the collection entirely surprising. Inventive, creative, and intelligent, May We Shed These Human Bodies became a firm favourite of mine on my first reading, and is certainly a tome which I hope to pick up many more times in the future.