by Amber Sparks
What is life but day after day of searching? No, searching is not the right word. More like yearning, an intense and urgent longing. A longing for nothing more than to “be worth something, weigh something” (199). And yet, it is so rare to find a collection of stories, such as Amber Sparks’ The Unfinished World and Other Stories, that so carefully narrates these stories of searching. With Sparks’ words, these urgent longings–of belonging, of dreams, of love, and of life–resonate with each and every one of us.
There is something about these stories that makes them so familiar, like my mother’s hand on my forehead, yet so fantastic and even a little dangerous. I expected one of my favorite stories, “Take Your Daughter to the Slaughter,” to be your usual supernatural romance where the girl falls in love with the doomed, but ever so sexy, werewolf and defies her father’s decree that she remain in the house. Let’s just say that that’s not exactly how it happens: “Later, we will eat the hearts of the men they slowly become; we will share this meat with our fathers and we will warm our shame at that howl, our sadness at that last dissolve of paw to man” (81). Sparks has this incredible talent to take something that perhaps we have heard since childhood, and mold it into something that we never would have expected.
Sparks does not, cannot, rush through these stories and we, as readers, have a similar duty to marvel in each feeling that Sparks sets up for us. And trust me, it’s not always easy. Some of the stories, such as “For These Humans Who Cannot Fly,” will make you brilliantly uncomfortable. “I visited only once. My wife spent the visit tilting her head and chirping at me in frustration. She finally ran at the only small window in the room, so many times that her head was bloodied…when I saw how they bound her, how they forced white pills into her small red mouth, I fainted and woke to find myself being driven home. I never returned” (74). And Sparks asks us, what would you do? What is the price of freedom? What is the price of love? And can the two exist together?
This collection of stories truly takes you on a journey. And with Sparks’ poignant prose guiding you, you are sure to find a little bit of magic: “On these nights, everything seemed to quicken and jump, jittery and glimmering in the savage moonlight. These were heathen nights, full of half-magic. On these nights, Inge was on the lookout for a faerie circle or a forgotten spell, or perhaps a doorway to someplace else entirely” (157). Let Sparks take you someplace else entirely.
My only hope for you, for us, is that, after reading The Unfinished World, we will come to life and lament no longer, waste no more time. My hope is that our veins will thaw and our skin will warm (129). That we will find our way back to ourselves, back home– “She let them tattoo…her foot. This way, they told her, you will always know yourself…[and] that warmed her somehow. Despite the pain, she felt a strange sense of comfort in the mapping of her own skin” (182).