Reviewed by Corey Miller
Amber Sparks’ newest collection, And I Do Not Forgive You, contains 22 stories (& other Revenges, as described by the cover). On the bookshelf, it catches your eye instantly with its fluorescent pink jacket and image of a hatchet, promising flamboyant characters with vindictive motives.
Sparks has an affinity for fairy tales and mythology, which each story draws inspiration from. Her uniqueness comes from her assured voice, making well-known characters like Zeus sound like a modern bro with text message-like dialogue, abbreviated phrases and cursing (“I’ve ridden horses before, and it fucking sucks IMHO”), all set in parallel worlds not unlike our own, or in Sparks’ words “in another part of now.”
“In Which Athena Designs a Video Game with the Express Purpose of Trolling Her Father” balances comedy and tragedy by using Gods as characters in a humorous way, yet underneath is an all too true situation among humans on Earth. Zeus is watching college basketball and half-listening to his daughter, Athena, describe the video game she’s programming. In the game you have to “save the human world from a vengeful god.” Athena continues to describe the game that should sound familiar to Zeus; however, the concept flies right over his head because he is too infatuated with himself. This might be the furthest Sparks goes with showcasing egotistical male qualities, using it in a satirical over-the-top way.
“A Short and Slightly Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife” demonstrates the historical nature of women’s voices being silenced, leaving their male counterpart as the prominent figure remembered. The story purposefully refers to her as “Lavoisier’s Wife” to mockingly articulate that she has been overshadowed and nearly erased from history. This is because she saves and promotes her husband’s research after his untimely death, which ultimately and posthumously secures his place in history. Not only does she do this for her first husband, but she continues to go above and beyond, helping her second husband, and making his work famous as well. The story reads like gossip between you and the author with truthful jabs. It’s sassy in a comically modern way, despite being set in the 18th century. Sparks gets away with this history-driven plot because of her gutsy voice, which makes it such an interesting and readable spin on something that may have otherwise been glanced over.
“Noises From The Neighbors Above,” originally published in SmokeLong Quarterly, is a flash about a couple obsessing over what’s making the loud noises in the apartment above them. Their imagination runs rampant. Could it be bears? Dogs? Werewolves? It turns into any possibility of what could be living above them, producing a ruthless banging that threatens their sanity. Eventually, with the noises no longer bearable, the husband musters up the courage to see what it is, going upstairs and knocking, only to arrive to silence.
Many of Sparks’ stories end abruptly, as flash tends to do, leaving the reader to unravel the story’s layers woven tightly to bond plot and characters that resonate far beyond the final word.
“A Place For Hiding Precious Things” is a fairy tale, which steps outside the story numerous times to tell you it’s a fairy tale, playing with and poking fun at the confines of the genre. In the story, a princess is ordered to marry her father, the king, but she makes requests she thinks impossible to fulfill in order to get out of the arranged marriage. After the king has performed each task and the princess cannot deny that they have been completed, she asks her fairy godmother to help her run away. The fairy godmother wraps her in fresh donkey skin and hides the princess in a tree that transports her to New York City, telling her to burn the skin once she has found true love, or face the consequences. The story follows the princess on her journey of self-discovery with all the people who shape her life — for better or worse.
Sparks is daring with her prose, pushing something that could seem outdated to the tips of our tongues. She spins these fables like upcycling antiques, taking old stories and tropes and revitalizing their structures for the present. The stories in this collection have the perfect amount of weird and fantastical mixed with some beautifully humorous takes on humanity. Throughout these pages, we soar through galaxies and sidestep into parallel universes, trust-falling backwards with Sparks at the ready. This is a great collection to have by your side when you feel like having a quick out-of-body experience.
Corey Miller was a finalist for the F(r)iction Flash Fiction Contest (Spring ’20). His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in MoonPark Review, Pithead Chapel, Barren, Cleaver, Lost Balloon, Hobart, Cease Cows, and elsewhere. When not working or writing, Corey likes to take the dogs for adventures. Follow him on Twitter @IronBrewer or at www.coreymillerwrites.com