May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks
published by Curbside Splendor, 2012
What, exactly, is it? Sparks’s book wears many hats. It’s a collection of short stories and flash fiction. At times, it’s a series of lists: objects in an exhibit, school periods and corresponding homework, numbering/bullet points, character types (Mother, Father, Child, etc.), math equations, and boxing rounds. It’s an entry into all points of view: first, second, third. You’ll find longer stories that are plot-driven, flash fictions that are exercises in descriptive language or pondering theories. Bonus: the effect of varied forms is varied experience for the reader.
May we shed these human bodies: what does this polite request mean? Amber Sparks suggests shedding the human body is a means of ridding oneself of the possibility of being lonely or waiting for another body to comfort you. Dare I argue that every single story in Sparks’s collection uses the word lonely or alone? She writes, “Dream of throwing a blanket over your lonely life at last.” She writes, “You would always be the strongest, and you would always, always be alone.” She writes, “It will leave you utterly alone.” This device holds the collection together, although I can’t help but wish for more varied human emotions. I became exhausted by loneliness, wishing I could tape together the pages, merge the worlds of multiple stories, thus giving each character a friend (albeit a lonely one). Nor was I fully comfortable with these characters whose only mobility is down (sometimes literally down the drain).
Her varied form comes with varied tone. “As They Always Are” is a story that presents a mother with a baby whose appetite is vicious, though his mother is too sweet to care. When she dies, he never eats again, though he grows chubbier. How does he thrive? Why, the ghost of his mother feeds him at night, which we know only because his new stepmother is caught by the baby’s ghost mom while spying from behind the crib. The next morning, “when the sun rose, the baby’s nursemaid came to check on him as she did every morning. She found him lying on his back, eyes open and quite dead. All the fatness and pinkness had gone from him: he looked as though he’d starved to death.” Does seeing a ghost kill it? Was the dead mother no longer able to feed him? Was the jig up!? Sometimes the stories seem shocking for its own sake, and I felt like the writer was trying to be “cute” or “clever.”
Sparks writes in the voices of trees, teenagers, ghosts, dictators, a city, poets, and children. If you’re not sure what you like, there are so many options in Sparks’s collection, and perhaps you like “Surprise! Something weird happened out of no where!” more than I do.
This review was originally published in JMWW and has been slightly edited.