SSM2011 - Review: "All The Imaginary People Are Better At Life"

I first fell in love with Amber Sparks's writing because I was searching Google for "Amber Sparks having sex," but at was disappointed to find her site saying she was not a porn star. Actually, it was after reading "When the Weather Changes You," published in A Capella Zoo. Magical realism like most thing published in the magazine, it tells the story of a future world where the earth freezes and, on a deeper level, because there's always a deeper level--about the relationships we forge for our own selfish, self-serving desire. I rarely have a desire to contact writers, but Spark's work was nothing less than amazing. Also, she had a Facebook account which always makes becoming "friends" so much easier. We are now in that part of our friendship where we occasionally like each other's witty posts...

In an essay at the Big Other, Sparks discusses her influences:
I certainly learned to first love stories as a child. I loved fairy tales above and beyond everything else. Not the most saccharine tales, but the scarier, darker versions. My British relatives gave me a book of tales that included the original Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the Snow Queen, Donkeyskin, and Bluebeard. Violent, grim, unsettling, wholly magical and unpredictable, these stories were terrific because you never knew what would happen next....But the stories that drove me to start writing my own were those of one Hans Christian Anderson....To be honest, it really wasn’t until just under ten years ago that I started to read lots and lots of short stories again....In the years that followed I started digging, discovering Jim Shepard and Isak Dineson and Borges and Calvino and Mo Yan and Su Tong and Karen Russell and a million billion others.
[there are lots of breaks, but I think I got my point across]

A mixture magical realism and seriousness compacted into the short story form (informed, of course, by the likes of Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, Tillie Olson), Spark's work is funny and sad, serious yet full of wonder.

Among one my favorite works of hers is "All Imaginary People Are Better At Life," first published in Corium Magazine.

The underlying premise is seeming ridiculous. Ruby, a young woman, has a imaginary friend:
"Caleb, her imaginary best friend, calls on the space wires from Chicago to complain about the weather. The best part about Caleb is that he has a direct line into her head so she doesn't incur any phone charges. Ruby has made Caleb an actor, big and blond and very gay,and she loves him more than anyone else in the world. He is not-people and she is not-people. They work well together. He is gay because sex is more exhausting than marathons."
Yet while ridiculous, the condition is essential to the story and the character: Ruby has wanderlust, her head always somewhere, she "can't stop driving , because if she stops she'll e somewhere. If she's somewhere, she'll be real."

To be real, to Ruby, would to ground herself in the "real world," with a disapointing boyfriend ("She hates Home , ever since the boyfriend more or less moved himself in."), existential questions with no answers ("She wonder sometimes if she properly exists anymore..."), and most of all, her need for maturity.

Thus, Sparks uses fantasy here to highlight the discord between Ruby's real world and her imagined one. Sparks strength is her use of humor and the fantastical to comment directly upon the condition of her character.
"Look, Caleb says. I’m imaginary but you’re a real person. Jesus, Ruby. You have to eat real food. You have to pay real rent. You’re not imaginary, dude. You’re just crazy, that’s all. You just really suck at being alive."
Read all of Spark's works...That is all.

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