Both the best, and hardest, aspect of selecting a story from Amber Sparks' new collection, the unfinished world (Liveright/Norton, January 2016), was just that--trying to decide on which story to have as the Work of the Day. What it actually led to was me reading a good 60% of the book. I can't really say that "The Process of Human Decay" is my favorite--each time I started a new one, or accidentally re-started one I'd read, it immediately became my favorite (sometimes, again).
If nothing else was involved but the table of contents, the choice would be difficult--Sparks has some of the best short story titles around:
The Janitor in Space
The Lizzie Borden Jazz Babies
The Cemetery for Lost Faces
Lancelot in the Lost Places of the World
Birds with Teeth
and they continue. Rare is the title that doesn't cause you to think you'd really want to find out what happens.
So, I ended up picking "The Process of Human Decay" because I've read it three times now, and it was the last story I was reading when I decided it was time to start this post. It's EXCELLENT!
The story is brought into four sections: Fresh; Bloat; Delayed Decay; and Dry Remains
Each of the sections has one or two paragraphs. They follow the death and stages afterward and Sparks does not spare any details. It gets right to it:
Something is wrong. Your heart, it seems, has become a fish. It leaps, flutters, flops sideways a few times, then stops. You fall down.
One thing I found Sparks doing very well in this story was ending each section with a killer sentence--one that really helped lead to the next section:
- An army of blowflies is already on the way.
- There is a reason several wives have left you to die--and finally you have.
- Here come the worms.
- You always were better with plants than with people.
Actually there really isn't much that Sparks does NOT do well in this, or any of the stories in this collection that I've read so far. Great titles, great ideas, those ideas investigated and expounded upon. Great sentences, great transitions, and great endings. Nope, very very little that isn't done well in this collection (by "very very little" I believe I really mean "nothing") including this fantastic dedication:
May you grow into every hero, defeat every villain, and
show kindness to every misunderstood monster
Buy this book. Read this story and the many others within its covers.