A collection of elliptical stories in which death throws a long shadow over an eclectic group of characters.
There's a man who builds houses for the dead in case they come back to life, a taxidermist who learned her art from her late father, and two fossil hunters in a love triangle. The 19 stories in Sparks' second collection (May We Shed These Human Bodies, 2012) are shot through with fabulist elements and are rarely more than a few pages long, making them read like fairy tales or prose poems. And as with poetry, the strength of the collection is Sparks’ lush, lyrical writing, saturating the dark, death-filled stories with beauty. Many of the stories, in fact, feature characters trying to find solace—either through love or through art—in the face of loss. In “The Fires of Western Heaven,” about the aftermath of war, the anonymous first-person plural narrator admits, “We write, we sing, we paint, and still the blackness follows, still the dead are there in every note, every brushstroke.” In the collection’s title piece (which, at novella length, is the book’s longest, by far), Set, a young man who has always felt like half a ghost after a childhood bear attack, crosses paths with Inge, whose family and home have been decimated by tragedy. Sparks interweaves Inge’s and Set’s histories together with descriptions of items from Set’s dead brother’s “Cabinet of Curiosities,” a collection of mysterious items—extinct birds’ eggs, burned baby teeth—that haunts Set. Sparks’ stories, too, function much like the curiosities in the cabinet: finely wrought, strange, and sometimes inscrutable. When Inge wonders, “Was the world crowded with ghosts?” the collection answers for her: yes. Luckily for readers, we have Sparks to guide us through the underworld.
Stylish and deeply imagined.