Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories
By Mariana Enriquez
Translated by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Genre: Literary Fiction/Psychological Suspense
An arresting collection of short stories, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortazar, by an exciting new international talent.
Macabre, disturbing and exhilarating, Things We Lost in the Fire is a collection of twelve short stories that use fear and horror to explore multiple dimensions of life in contemporary Argentina. From women who set themselves on fire in protest of domestic violence to angst-ridden teenage girls, friends until death do they part, to street kids and social workers, young women bored of their husbands or boyfriends, to a nine-year-old serial killer of babies and a girl who pulls out her nails and eyelids in the classroom, to hikikomori, abandoned houses, black magic, northern Argentinean superstition, disappearances, crushes, heartbreak, regret and compassion. This is a strange, surreal and unforgettable collection by an astonishing new talent asking vital questions of the world as we know it.
Macabre is the most appropriate term that I could assign to this dark collection of short stories that is Things We Lost in the Fire. I find myself searching for words that will be strung together to form a summary of my experience with this somewhat unearthly and shocking collection. Please be very aware that the word graphic seems almost light and delicate in comparison to some of the events the played throughout the pages of Mariana Enriquez’s work. Even though I will rate this book highly, I am not recommending it to all.
Beautifully translated, this is a multifaceted, harrowing approach to suspense that is set within contemporary Argentina. These 12 short stories presented the perfect opportunity to diversify my reading a bit more and all seemed to feature several common elements. Female protagonists, poverty, and realism are all skillfully entwined with hints of the supernatural to compile what was ultimately one of my most unique reading experiences to date.
Initially I struggled with Things We Lost in the Fire. While I found myself completely immersed in the refreshing dose of culture and almost inviting writing that created a seamless read, the graphic and heavy content hit me hard and unexpectedly. I am no stranger to twisted scenarios and depictions of gruesome scenes as I love the horror genre. I admit though, that this was extensive and intense. I will not elaborate in this post, but I am giving the simple warning to approach this with caution. It is unsettling.
There are several aspects and topics addressed throughout this collection that should not be overlooked. The author manages to touch on mental health and physical and mental abuse in a manner that does nothing to conceal the raw reality of what it is. The reader is thrown into lives that force them to look at these elements in a head on and uncensored manner. This is a collision. There is something much more than eery stories occurring beneath the layers.
Of the 12 stories my favorite 3 would be:
The Dirty Kid: A woman who has come to view poverty and addiction at its very worst as a normal part of daily life sadly discovers she has become so accustomed to the environment surrounding her that she has been blinded. Now she feels the full weight of guilt after possibly having overlooked all warning signs as she confronts the death of a local homeless child.
*This story is the first on the collection and I found it to be the most disturbing of all. It will test your ability to continue with this book
The Inn: This story manages to cleverly disguise one young girls struggle with her own sexuality among a tale of the paranormal.
End of Term: Readers are given a frightening ghost story surrounding the uncomfortable topic of mental health and social acceptance.
I chose each of these for the message that I discovered tucked beneath the pages that resonated with me long after completing them. I feel as though there is an endless amount to be interpreted and learned from Things We Lost in the Fire. It will certainly impact us each in various ways.
This is a rich and provocatively written anthology that pits you against real horrors while ingeniously softening them by hiding them among the “ghost” stories. It is slow and masterful revelation full of distressing possibilities and even realities that lurk among us. It cannot be unread.
*I would like to thank both Blogging for Books and Netgalley for this opportunity. This review is my own unbiased opinion and experience.
ABOUT MARIANA ENRIQUEZ
Mariana Enriquez is a writer and editor based in Buenos Aires, where she contributes to a number of newspapers and literary journals, both fiction and nonfiction.
Read more about Things We Lost in the Fire and an excerpt here.