These stories have been told before. Most are fairly clever fairy tales retold, some are veiled retellings of myth and history, and a few are sparkling new. They have been told before in the sense that they are retellings, but they have also been told before in the sense that other authors have done these before, and done them better.
It was difficult to find the author’s voice; reading the collection felt less like one author’s work and more like an anthology of the who’s who of the magical realism scene. The stories, which covered many of the topics that most appeal to me – things like Catholic martyrs, melancholy ghosts, Greek mythology, foundlings, fairy godmothers- the list goes on and on, did not resonate in the way that I wish they would. The haze of the unreal was flavored more by comparison than by bespoke oddity. While I would not re-read this collection, it did inspire me to revisit the authors from whom it drew an overabundance of inspiration: Carmen Maria Machado, Samantha Hunt, Angela Carter, Kelly Link, and Emma Donoghue (just to name a few).
I don’t begrudge Sparks for emulating these other authors; were I to try my hand at short fiction I am sure that it would be colored by the same voices as well. I just wish that I was able to truly hear Sparks through the echoes of the authors who came before. While I could not find Sparks among the stars, she did at least give one passage that spoke directly to me (and others in my field):
Moon. Face not withstanding, the moon is a source of madness just the same. Or so say the police, hospital staff, and good old Pliny the Elder, who theorized that perhaps humans were so affected by the moon because they- like the tides- were made mostly of water, especially the brain. The full moon, in particular, is believed to hand us lunatics, werewolves, and criminals. The moon reaches down with silver fingers and toys with us; and we reach up and destroy the moon.
I’ll get you one day, moon!