Short stories and I don’t always get along but Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez turned out to be an exception. All set in Enriquez’s native Argentina, the stories usually start out in pretty innocuous domestic settings only to veer into something far darker and more troubling. Often set in impoverished slums we encounter corrupt police officers, mysterious disappearances, human bones emerging from the ground, brutal murders, self-harm and apparitions of people long gone. There are some pretty gruesome details in these stories but thanks to Enriquez’s skills as a writer it doesn’t feel like gratuitous violence, but rather a portrait of a people and a country still living in the shadows of its bleak past.
It’s hard to pick a favourite – if that is a word one can use about these stories – they all leave you reeling. The five-year old little boy and his pregnant drug addict mother who live on a mattress in the The Dirty Kid burnt into my mind as did the abandoned house with bricked up windows which ‘buzzed like a hoarse mosquito’ in Adela’s House. Equally, the memory of the skull in No Flesh Over Our Bones, which ends up in our protagonist’s living room with fairy lights as eyes is also hard to shake off.
Although separate, a red thread of uneasiness runs through these stories, be it about dysfunctional relationships, unsolved murders, mental illness or depravity. Enriquez also pulls them further together with a strong sense of place. Having read this, I feel as though I’ve visited Argentina’s underbelly. Whether or not that is correct, I’ll leave to my Argentinian readers to determine. Either way, this short story collection had me transfixed.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez is translated by Megan McDowell and published by Granta, 198 pages.