Bookshots: 'The Unfinished World' by Amber Sparks

Bookshots: 'The Unfinished World' by Amber Sparks

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Title:

The Unfinished World: And Other Stories

Who wrote it?

Sparks blends the lines between dreams and wakefulness, the living and the dead, and speaks to all of us who get caught somewhere in the middle, unable to choose which world we belong to.

Amber Sparks, who also wrote the short story collection May We Shed These Human Bodies. She’s been nominated for two Pushcart awards and for Dzanc’s Best of the Web. She lives in D.C., but has strong roots in the Midwest. I like people from the Midwest, and Amber Sparks is just another person who confirms that strange and wonderful people grow up in the flyover zone.

Plot in a Box:

Time machines, orphan taxidermists, feverish librarians—but more than that, there is almost always a glimpse towards death.

Invent a new title for this book:

Taken from my favorite line: Everybody Knows Somebody Dead

Read this if you like:

The Lore podcast and want to believe that some part of the world myths have imagined is real.

Meet the book’s lead(s):

From the title novella: Igne, a girl whose life costs her mother’s in childbirth, and Set, a boy who dies in a circus bear attack and then comes back to life. Their families see them as constant reminders of mortality. Ghosts, even. When the two meet, they recognize some part of themselves in each other, something familiar, and fall in love.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

The ghosts of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Eh … no space travel or time hopping for me.

What was your favorite sentence?

Everybody knows somebody dead.

The Verdict: 

Sparks’ stories stand in a tender place between reality and the imagined. The Unknown World: And Other Stories delves into the possibilities of myths, fairy tales, science fiction. It asks: What if time machines were real? What if people could come back from the dead?

In the collection, there is a family of necromancers who get chased out of town; an ugly girl who pays a doctor to make her beautiful before she dies; a man who corrects history for a living. Sparks never takes the darkness of her stories too seriously and there’s almost something cartoonish about the worlds she creates.

In “The Men and Women Like Him”, the consequences of time travel are not only tender, but humorous: “They wanted to save the dodo, the rhino, the snow leopard, the honeybee, the whale. They wanted to save their loved ones, and sometimes, themselves. An astonishingly large number of them wanted to save Elvis.” One of my favorite stories in the collection was “The Lizzie Borden Jazz Babies”, about twins who grow into opposite women: “Cat is lovely and serious; Patty is sensual, all smiles and come-hither stares.”

Sparks has a way of illuminating her characters in an instant. In all the imagined worlds she creates, the characters are familiar and human. The collection gets its title from the novella that comes before the final story of Sparks’ collection about two characters who grow up close to death, and later meet and fall in love. Tragedy is their glue. Sparks blends the lines between dreams and wakefulness, the living and the dead, and speaks to all of us who get caught somewhere in the middle, unable to choose which world we belong to.

Image of The Unfinished World: And Other Stories
Author: Amber Sparks
Price: $14.36
Publisher: Liveright (2016)
Binding: Paperback, 240 pages

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