By: Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (Translator)
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.
Completion: This book was definitely a departure from my normal reading selection. On an average day I am not drawn to horror by any means and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that took place in Argentina. However, I’m glad that I took the risk because it was well worth it. The collection was the perfect size for dipping a toe into the horror genre and Argentinian literature and I breezed through it in one sitting.
Writing/Style: If you are fan of Shirley Jackson, then Mariana Enriquez’s style will be quite satisfying. She does a great job of ramping up the tension without ever feeling gimmicky or obvious. A shoutout, too, must be given to Megan McDowell, the translator, because I never felt like I was reading a translation. While I haven’t read the original, I can say that the translation was smooth and consistent which I appreciated.
Characters: On top of the fact that it takes places in Argentina (where we get to see characters outside of the stereotypical white middle-class Americans), I was happy also to see a diverse cast of different economic backgrounds, sexualities, and gender identities.
Plot/Pacing: This book is a series of short stories that were all relatively the same length and pacing. While it is natural to like some short stories more than others, there wasn’t any that dragged horribly or that I plain disliked (this happens to me a lot when reading short story collections) which is a testament to this collection.
World-building/Atmosphere: To be honest, I’m pretty ignorant about Argentina so I’m happy to say that this short story collection immersed me into the setting in a effortless way. I felt like I learned about Argentina without ever being bogged down in the details.
Sub-genres (Romance, Horror, Mystery, etc.): For those wanting to read this, I will say it is literary horror short story collection, not mainstream horror, so while there is some gore, crude or scary language, and ominous endings, I wasn’t scared out of my mind even though I made the poor decision of reading it during my midnight shift (a poor decision because I’m a scaredy cat). Mind you, I don’t like being scared out of my mind so for me this was not a bad thing, but if that’s what you are looking for, you won’t find it here.
My one critique of this book is that while most of the stories had endings that were ambiguously ominous and atmospheric (which I loved), a couple of them just seemed to end incomplete as if the author meant to add more but forgot which frustrated me because the couple of stories that did this were good up to that point.
FINAL VERDICT: Mariana Enriquez has created a full experience with short story collection. I loved how she melded the fantastical horror with the horror of the Argentinian past, present, and future. Well worth a read, I would recommend Things We Lost in the Fire to those seeking sophisticated horror wrapped in beauty of Argentina.