Reading Things We Lost in the Fire

A double entry for the Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction and Uncanny in Translation series.

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.

Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez
Things We Lost in the Fire, by Mariana Enriquez. Translator Megan McDowell

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.


2 thoughts on “Reading Things We Lost in the Fire

  1. Hello again my friend, It has been a long time and I hope that you are well. I have not been online much due to a few near-death health issues and the loss of my computer= I am using a loaner laptop at the moment – but I am trying to catch up on your always superb posts. I do have a question about the ‘Things We Lost in the Fire” collection, if I may. This has, for me, as for many, been rather horrific year, my dining room was flooded by a hole in the roof, a broken underground water line left me with a four thousand (yes, four thousand!) dollar water bill, and other challenges. And so, one of the ironies of getting older is that in one’s retirement years, one has time to read, yet finances are not as they were when working. Thus my question: I CAN afford to get a Kindle edition of this book, BUT to be very candid, I would prefer not to spend the money if the stories would be depressing and add to feelings of hopelessness or sorrow. I know that there are many great works of macabre fiction which are both chilling and delightful, yet there are some ( in the vein of “”Silent Snow, Secret Snow”, or even, in a different genre, the classic by Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”) which leave me in a rather dark place. Depression is one of those nasty companions, whose visitations are regular, though unwanted. Now, I did NOT write this to play my sad, pitiable Old Man With Weeping Violin theme song – my life is still good, and I thank the good God for every breath and every day. But I wanted to explain my reasoning for asking about this collection before just placing an order. So I close this meandering missive of misery, assuring you that things are never as bad as they sound, and thanking you, if you have the time, for any reply. With all my best wishes for you and yours= Julian Harper

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your troubles! I hope that things are getting better.

      As for this collection: to be honest, I found the first few stories, while excellent, to be rather on the “downer” side, so I hesitate to recommend them to you — I have also found some types of stories harder to read this year than I usually find them. The stories do go some dark places, including “Adela’s House.” I think I have to say that if you find “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” too much to read, you might want to avoid this.

      Or, if you can get it from a library (the collection has been out for a few years), you can try them out without financial cost.

      But (re. my other posts) Yellow Glass is excellent, and so is Fantastic Tales, and they are not nearly as dark.

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