Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez is a collection of twelve short stories set in the backdrop of an Argentina plagued with heat, poverty, and stench. The stories are unnerving. In one form or another, each story deals with a jarring event that defies explanation. The stories are replete with mysterious disappearances, brutality, violence, addiction, and characters (either real or imagined) that are misshapen and physically or mentally damaged.
Violence and brutality occur with regular frequency: the corpse of a young boy is found with cigarette burns on his torso and a decapitated head; a young girl (possibly a victim of child sexual assault) self-mutilates; a priest kills himself after warning of something demonic residing in the polluted black river of a nearby slum.
And then there are the mysterious disappearances and appearances that defy explanation: two girls are accosted in a room by the sounds of cars, heavy pounding on window shutters, running feet, screaming men, shining headlights—all of which terrify the girls but none of which is either seen or heard by adults; the ghost of a brutal child-murderer appears to a tourist guide on a bus; a husband disappears while on a road trip; two teenagers witness the disappearance of their friend behind a door in an abandoned house. Never seen again, her ghost supposedly haunts the house. A woman sees a young boy in her neighbor’s courtyard. His legs are chained and he looks barely human. When he shows up in her bedroom and devours her cat, we are not sure whether what she sees is real or a hallucination.
Finally, there are disturbing activities: a young woman’s obsession with a human skull she finds tossed among a pile of garbage. Taking the skull to her bedroom, she decorates it with beads, a wig, lights for eyes. Determined to “complete” the skull, she decides to dig for human bones. And then there is the story of a young boy who withdraws from the world and becomes obsessed with the deep web. And in another story, a clandestine organization helps women set themselves on fire so they can serve as visually potent protests of male violence against women.
The anthology is dark and disturbing. Many of the stories are inconclusive, ending on a chilling note that contributes to the atmosphere of unease. Enriquez juxtaposes bizarre events with routine concerns and a resigned tone—as if to suggest Argentina, having barely emerged from a brutal dictatorship, continues to be haunted by its past horrors, blurring the lines between reality and illusion, between the normal and the insane.
Recommended for those interested in tales of horror and the macabre.