Review of Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
Rating : 4/5
Goodreads Summary :
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, abandonedhouses, 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.
My Review :
Mariana Enriquez’s short stories though set in contemporary Argentina, captures the forgotten part of Argentina comprising of the slums and the parts of cities ruled by drug cartels as the backdrop. I was initially in a conundrum about my ability to enjoy these stories as I am a novice to Latin American fiction except for my short adventure on magical realism which did not end well. Mariana has not developed the stories around the cities so as to alienate an unfamiliar reader but has narrated the stories around the issues faced by any contemporary developing cities. Coming from India, I was not unfamiliar with these problems and could easily understand the backdrop and the motivations of the characters as the issues she addressed are universal. Narrating the tales of unexplored facets of life and reaching beyond the realm of human understanding and experiences, she has somehow managed to highlight issues like domestic violence, drug abuse, police brutality, depression, transgender issues and sexuality. These are intricately woven into the complex fabric of the story.
As I am not an avid reader of horror stories I do not have any benchmark to compare “Things We Lost in the Fire” with. All the stories are ominous, some are plain scary and some extremely gory. There were two stories which stood out for me in their ability to send shivers down my spine – ‘Adela’s House’ and ‘An Invocation of Big-Eared Runt’. Adela’s House uses the tried and tested formula of the haunted house. But what sets it apart is the deformed child protagonist Adela who feels that the house directly communicates to her. The story is narrated by one of the three children on whom the events at the house had an everlasting impact. An Invocation of Big-Eared Runt is about the appearance of the ghost of a nine year old serial killer of babies to a tourist guide who covers famous murderers on his tour. The activities of the serial killer fills us with disgust and despondence as his victims are babies and kids. Whether the apparition will influence the guide in his personal life is left for the readers to understand.
The Dirty Kid, the first story of the collection, deals with the faith of people and various pagan practices. The story revolves around an addict who is the mother of a young boy and pregnant with the second child. The disappearance of the mother and child coincides with the appearance of mutilated bodies of children. While reading this story, I sincerely hoped this was purely a work of fiction and was not one that was inspired by any real incidents. Another one that touched my heart was ‘The Things We Lost in the Fire’, a story dealing with domestic violence through a group of women self-immolating to safeguard themselves from more torture. What is already destroyed cannot be tarnished further! The ‘Neighbors Courtyard’ is a story about a disgraced social worker suffering from depression who glances upon a tortured child in her neighbor’s courtyard. This story has given a small insight into the mind of a person suffering from depression and also of the view that people tend to take by dismissing it as a mere mood swing or something which the patient can snap out of in a moment.
My Verdict :
A good collection of morbid and gruesome stories which will truly enthrall you. Not all of the twelve stories, but I can guarantee that at least one will give you the jitters depending on what kind of horror you prefer. Definitely worth a read for all horror fans and horror newbies.