Expected Publication Date: February 21, 2017 (first published December 4, 2014 in Spanish)
Wow! What a macabre, twisted way to get swept up in the life and culture of Argentina. I love when I read books outside my usual genres and get blown away by them. These short stories invoke living nightmares and nightmarish creatures that dwell just below the surface of normal life and enter into these stories in unexpected ways. There are ghosts of the past, horrific creatures, and a sense of the clairvoyance in these pages. Some of the descriptions within these stories brought to mind Stephen King’s writing, particularly “Adela’s House.” Certain descriptions of graffiti in repetitive patterns of letters that don’t seem to spell anything and the creature with teeth filed into triangles that eats Paula’s live cat in “The Neighbor’s Courtyard” are two other particular examples that felt Stephen King-esque to me.
The setting for these stories is in various cities in Argentina, including Buenos Aires, Lanus, and Corrientes. There is a sense of healing in the land, but there are horrors of the past lurking just beneath the surface. Natalia in “Spiderweb” saw a burning building which 10 minutes later was charred down to the earth. Someone else in that story saw a ghost rising from the cement of a bridge, within which dead bodies must have been hidden. In “Under the Black Water” a buried monster dwells in a polluted river, which people had been trying to cover up. Argentina’s Dirty War took place 1974 to 1983 and though it is not directly referenced in these stories, the horrors lurking just beneath the surface and these ghosts of the past are most certainly from that time.
There are many common themes that wind their way through these stories creating interest and intrigue. Many of the characters in these stories are depressed, sometimes overwhelmingly so to the point of not being able to work anymore, hurting themselves, and perhaps hallucinating. In one story “Green Red Orange,” Marco becomes locked in, not seeing people anymore. He only opens his door when no one is there to get the food his mother has left him. He only communicates with an old girlfriend via chat from his computer where he becomes obsessed with the deep web, where he can find the most horrific things.
Another theme running through many of these stories is dissatisfaction with boyfriends or husbands. The boyfriends and husbands in these stories are not loved or desired by the protagonist. They are depicted as being over-confident, arrogant, pig-headed and most importantly useless. The boyfriends or husbands end up disappearing or leaving by the end of each story. The final and titular story “Things We Lost in the Fire” begins with women being the subject of fires set by angry significant others. The women then begin to burn themselves in protest creating a world of disfigured women. This is a very disturbing brutal ending to this collection of stories.
There is obvious social commentary within the pages of these stories. The author is definitely a feminist. She has an interesting way of depicting wealth versus poverty and sane versus mentally unstable. She definitely delves into a world of darkness and demons, most of us do not think about. She recognizes horrors within her stories, that don’t even pertain to the main story, but are issues with the society at large. In “Spiderweb” the soldiers at the Paraguayan restaurant with their large guns are harassing the waitress and are likely going to rape her, however, any intervention would get the narrator and Natalia raped. However, I feel the greatest social commentary contained within these stories is directed at the horrors and brutality of the Dirty War and how the ghosts of that time continue to haunt the Argentinian people.
Each story, thrilling and terrifying, ends on a cliffhanger. You, the reader, are left not knowing, still wondering, what was truth and fiction, and where things will go from there. I highly recommend this collection of short stories from a gifted and talented Argentinian writer! It will make the hair on your arms stand up.
The original, untranslated stories
- What social commentary is the author making?
- What political commentary is the author making?
- What literary influences did you find in the author’s writing?
- Why do you think depression figures so heavily in these stories?
- Discuss the role of female friendship within these stories.
- What role do drugs and alcohol play within these stories?
- How do these stories reference Argentina’s Dirty War?
- Discuss Gauchito Gil, his dark violent mythology and his role in the death of the boy in “The Dirty Kid.” Why does Gauchito Gil appeal to the people in the neighborhood of Constitucion?
- How does Enriquez characterize the police in these stories?
- What is the meaning of people disappearing within these stories?
- In “Under the Water” the people of the slum are repeating “In his house, the dead man waits dreaming.” What is the meaning of this?
- What do you think the meaning of the title is? Why do you think the author chose this story’s title to be the title of the book?
- In “Spiderweb,” what does spiderweb symbolize?