Sunday, December 6, 2015

Book Review: "The Unfinished World and Other Stories" by Amber Sparks

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and W.W. Norton & Company for making it available!

The descriptions of Amber Sparks' new collection of stories plus a novella compared her to Kelly Link and Karen Russell. While there are elements of the macabre, the futuristic, the fantastic in these stories, Sparks' voice is all her own—it's at once familiar and unusual, jarring and moving, and quite intriguing.

There isn't really a theme that weaves through all of the stories in this collection, although each is characterized by the outpouring or manifestation of some emotion and/or desire—love, grief, sadness, fear, the desire for a new start, etc. The stories take place in the past, present, and future; there is even an adaptation of a fairy tale thrown in for good measure. (Ironically, it's one of the same fairy tales adapted by Michael Cunningham in his newest book, A Wild Swan and Other Tales, which I read last month.)

While I didn't quite "get" everything in this collection, and some of the stories didn't work for me, there were some absolute stunners. Some of my favorites included: "Things You Should Know About Cassandra Dee," about an overweight girl with a special gift that isn't quite a blessing; "And the World Was Crowded with Things That Meant Love," one of the most straightforward stories in the collection, which is not your usual love story; "Thirteen Ways of Destroying a Painting," a humorous tale which featured an immensely determined time traveler; "The Janitor in Space," which is poignant and beautiful; and "The Cemetery for Lost Faces," which chronicled a brother and sister who handle their grief through taxidermy and unusual art.

If you're a fan of more traditional stories, this collection might not be for you, but if you can open your mind to stories which may force you to think of the future or the past, pick up The Unfinished World and Other Stories. You'll be intrigued, you'll be moved, you'll shake your head at Sparks' creativity, but most of all, you'll get to witness her storytelling talent and her deft skill with language and imagery first hand.

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