Things We Lost in the Fire is a collection of twelve short stories by Mariana Enriquez, an Argentinian journalist and writer. Many of the stories take place in the eighties and nineties, during the Junta and the years of economic instability and uncertainty that followed. The stories contain elements of magic realism blended with gothic horror, with ghosts and magic.
There are horrors in these stories, ghosts who rise from polluted rivers and saints who demand sacrifices, but the real horrors are often all too human, indifference, cruelty, and repression being their own horror.
Enirquez also explores mental illness, particularly depression, in a story about a young woman who suffered from depression so now no one believes her when she sees an abused child…but maybe they were right. There’s a young man who won’t leave his room and a wife who won’t leave the husband that she despises, though maybe her cousin will give her a push.
These stories are shocking, they are violent and disturbing. There is a frank honesty about how the sickness and corruption of the government infects the people who live under it. For example, in “The Intoxicated Years” teenage friends become nihilist seekers of drugs and thrills, indifferent to their lives. This is when power service was unreliable and inflation and unemployment impoverished the middle class, a time of hopelessness that infected the teens who saw no future.
The casual misogyny and oppression of women sparks a revolution of self-immolation. It’s presented as a normal response, a kind of viral revolution. It’s horrific, but so is the reality that inspired it. These are stories that will keep you up at night.
I like Things We Lost in the Fire very much. The stories are written with care, sparingly told, engaging our own imagination to scare ourselves. Enriquez will cut the story off right before the climax, but it’s not a fade-to-black reprieve because she is letting our imagination run away to more frightening realms. It is difficult to do that well, ending a just the right moment, but she is adept at picking that moment, when we suddenly understand where we’re going and that we don’t know how to stop the train.
I received a review copy of Things We Lost in the Fire from the publisher through Blogging For Books
- Things We Lost in the Fire at Penguin Random House
- Mariana Enriquez writes about writing in Electric Lit
- SpiderWeb, one of the stories in this collection, at The New Yorker