First things first: “Adela’s House” is the best haunted house story I’ve ever read. It’s eerie and dark, enigmatic, and just a little bit bloody. Like most great ghost stories, it starts out in a quirky but fundamentally prosaic world and just…goes sideways. Real sideways. I love it, and for this story alone, I’d recommend Things We Lost in the Fire.
But the rest of this collection, by Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell) is nothing to ignore, either. I sought her work out after seeing her featured in a BBC special on women ghost story writers, but not all the stories in Things We Lost in the Fire are supernatural. Rather than a “ghost story writer,” I lean towards calling her a “writer of the macabre.” The stories in this collection, supernatural or not, are all uncanny, dark, “weird” in the sense that the VanderMeers use the term, and sometimes outright horror. Whatever you choose to call them, they are compelling and unsettling, and a really great read.
Since Enriquez is based in Buenos Aires, it’s almost a given that she gets compared to the Argentine magical realists. While Enriquez’s stories have some of the ambiguous qualities of magical realism, I don’t see them as being in that tradition, myself. Sometimes her writing does remind me of Silvina Ocampo, in that there is a sort of cold-eyed clarity, almost cruelty, in the way those particular stories present their protagonists and their world.
I’d also say that Enriquez is in the tradition of an earlier Argentine writer, Juana Manuela Gorriti; they both use the supernatural and the gothic to grapple with Argentine history, particularly in the aftermath of dictatorial regimes.
Some favorite stories of mine: “Adela’s House” of course. “An Invocation of the Big Eared Runt” tells of a tour guide on a Buenos Aires “murder tour” who begins to get some interesting–and pertinent–visions. “End of Term” and “No Flesh Over Our Bones” are both creepy and disturbing, in different ways.
The horror elements of “The Neighbor’s Courtyard” are, well, pretty horrible, but the relationship elements are disturbing, too. “Under the Water” filters Lovecraftian elements through a Buenos Aires lens. “Things We Lost in the Fire” examines how ideology can sometimes be much harder on the followers than on the leaders.
According to the translator, of all of Enriquez’s fiction, Things We Lost in the Fire is the work that “most employs the tools of realism”– I guess it says something about literary attitudes towards genre, that we have to wait for a relatively “realistic” work to get a translation. I would love to read more of Enriquez’s macabre tales, and I believe she has another collection coming out in translation early next year. I’m looking forward to it. But in the meantime, do check this collection out.