Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories, by Mariana Enriquez

Hogarth, 2017 (February)
208 pp

arc -- thanks thanks thanks to LibraryThing and to the publisher for my copy.

I loved this book. Absolutely loved this book. Given my preference for works from the past, that should be a clue that it's beyond excellent. 

A short-story collection from Argentinian author Mariana Enríquez, Things We Lost in the Fire is a tough book to describe, and I can't really go too deeply into any of these stories without giving away too much of the show.  It is a mix of realism and just sheer terror, either in a true-to-life sense, for example, in the horrific actions of the soldiers or the experience of powerlessness from "Spiderweb," or in other stories here which combine the very real horrors of the streets or contemporary inner anxieties with the supernatural to make them doubly terrifying. It doesn't take long for the book to affect you -- you need turn no further than the first story "The Dirty Kid" to see just how chilling these stories are.  While reading that one, the outer world faded once again, and there I was on the dark, frightening streets of the city where just taking a walk at night could feasibly get you killed or worse. And trust me, that was the least of the narrator's worries in this tale.

Things We Lost in the Fire is incredibly disturbing -- I made the mistake of starting "The Invocation of the Big-Eared Runt"  last night just before bedtime and actually had to put the book down or I would been awake all night due to the crushing and downright terror-laden subject matter. In this story, as in a number of stories that follow, reality meets horror and at some point the jolt from the collision hits you like the proverbial ton of bricks. Even reading this book this morning and afternoon in the daylight didn't help to lessen its impact  -- it is one of the most raw, frightening, and gut-punching books I've read this year, and to her credit, there is not a bad story in the entire book. The final story, in fact, "Things We Lost in the Fire," is so damn good, so utterly powerful in what it has to say, but at the same time so very squirmworthy that you just can't look away.

The approach she uses of writing about contemporary society within the framework of  the horror/supernatural fiction genre seems to allow the author a lot of flexibility in discussing a number of different issues, most especially those pertaining to women,  and the best part is that it's so very well done that readers will be able to quickly draw their own conclusions without having to rely on everything being spelled out for them.   Also, while it's not stated so overtly,  in pretty much every story there are echoes of Argentina's past, which is never far away from its present -- I couldn't help noticing the many disappearances in these stories, and then there's this quotation from "No Flesh Over My Bones" :
"We walk all over bones in this city, it's just a question of making holes deep enough to reach the buried dead." 
This book is certainly one of the best contemporary works I've read this year. In this day and age, when so much of what's coming from the big publishing houses seems to be stuck in the mode of same old same old, Things We Lost in the Fire was a huge and very welcome surprise.  It appeals not only because of content, but it's also an intelligent book asking readers to think.  Enríquez brings a fresh new voice and perspective to the realm of dark fiction and does so with purpose.

Sadly, this book will not be out until February of 2017, but the good news is that people have something to look forward to.  Highly, beyond-highly, recommended.

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