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Things We Lost in the Fire

Cover of Things We Lost in the Fire

Things We Lost in the Fire

Stories
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In these wildly imaginative, devilishly daring tales of the macabre, internationally bestselling author Mariana Enriquez brings contemporary Argentina to vibrant life as a place where shocking inequality, violence, and corruption are the law of the land, while military dictatorship and legions of desaparecidos loom large in the collective memory. In these stories, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortázar, three young friends distract themselves with drugs and pain in the midst a government-enforced blackout; a girl with nothing to lose steps into an abandoned house and never comes back out; to protest a viral form of domestic violence, a group of women set themselves on fire.

But alongside the black magic and disturbing disappearances, these stories are fueled by compassion for the frightened and the lost, ultimately bringing these characters—mothers and daughters, husbands and wives—into a surprisingly familiar reality. Written in hypnotic prose that gives grace to the grotesque, Things We Lost in the Fire is a powerful exploration of what happens when our darkest desires are left to roam unchecked, and signals the arrival of an astonishing and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
In these wildly imaginative, devilishly daring tales of the macabre, internationally bestselling author Mariana Enriquez brings contemporary Argentina to vibrant life as a place where shocking inequality, violence, and corruption are the law of the land, while military dictatorship and legions of desaparecidos loom large in the collective memory. In these stories, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortázar, three young friends distract themselves with drugs and pain in the midst a government-enforced blackout; a girl with nothing to lose steps into an abandoned house and never comes back out; to protest a viral form of domestic violence, a group of women set themselves on fire.

But alongside the black magic and disturbing disappearances, these stories are fueled by compassion for the frightened and the lost, ultimately bringing these characters—mothers and daughters, husbands and wives—into a surprisingly familiar reality. Written in hypnotic prose that gives grace to the grotesque, Things We Lost in the Fire is a powerful exploration of what happens when our darkest desires are left to roam unchecked, and signals the arrival of an astonishing and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

    Copyright © 2017 Mariana Enriquez

    The Dirty Kid

    My family thinks I'm crazy, and all because I choose to live in our old family home in Constitución, the house that once belonged to my paternal grandparents. It's an imposing stone building on Calle Virreyes, with iron doors painted green, art deco details, and old mosaics on a floor so worn out that if I ever got the urge to wax it I could open up a roller rink. But I was always in love with this house. I remember when I was little and my family rented it out to a law firm and I got so upset; I missed those rooms with their tall windows, and the walled patio that was like a secret garden. I hated not being able to just go in anytime I passed by. I never really missed my grandfather, a silent man who hardly smiled and never played—I didn't cry when he died. I cried a lot, though, when after he died we lost the house for several years.

    After the lawyers a team of dentists moved in, and then the house was rented to a travel magazine that folded in under two years. The house was beautiful and comfortable and in remark- ably good condition considering how old it was, but by then no one, or very few people, wanted to settle in that neighborhood. The travel magazine went for it only because the rent was very low for the time. But not even that could save them from quickly going bankrupt, and it certainly didn't help that their offices were robbed: all their computers were stolen, plus a microwave oven and even a heavy photocopier.

    The station in Constitución is where trains coming from the south of the country enter the city. In the nineteenth century it was the area where the port's aristocracy lived; that's why houses like my family's exist, and there are plenty of others that have been converted into hotels or old folks' homes, or are crumbling to the ground on the other side of the station, in Barracas. In 1887, the aristocratic families fled to the northern part of the city to escape the yellow fever. Few of them came back, almost none. Over the years, families of rich businessmen like my grandfather were able to buy those stone houses with their gargoyles and bronze door knockers. But the neighborhood was marked by that flight, the abandonment, the condition of being unwanted.

    And it's only getting worse.

    But if you know how to move around the neighborhood, if you understand its dynamics, its schedules, it isn't dangerous. Or it's less dangerous. I know that on Friday nights, if I go down to Plaza Garay, I might end up caught in a fight between several possible adversaries: the mininarcos from Calle Ceballos who defend their territory from other occupants and chase down the endless people who owe them money; the addicts who, brain- dead as they are, get offended at anything and react violently, lashing out with broken bottles; the drunk and tired transvestites who have their own patches of pavement to defend. I also know that if I walk home along the avenue I'm more exposed to a robbery than if I take Solís, even though the avenue is well lit and Solís is dark; most of the few streetlights it has are broken. You have to know the neighborhood to learn these strategies. I've been robbed twice on the avenue, both times by kids who ran past and grabbed my bag and pushed me to the ground. The first time, I filed a police report; by the second I knew it was pointless. The police let teenage muggers rob on the avenue as far as the highway bridge—three free blocks—in exchange for favors. There are certain tricks to being able to move easily in this neighborhood and I've...

About the Author-
  • Mariana Enriquez is a writer and editor based in Buenos Aires, where she contributes to a number of newspapers and literary journals, both fiction and nonfiction.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 2, 2017
    Morbid tales of contemporary Argentina animate Enriquez’s memorable collection of short fiction. In “The Dirty Kid,” a privileged woman comes to believe that the homeless boy who lives outside her building has been the victim of a beheading, only to later learn that his fate is much more complicated. A young girl inexplicably disappears into an abandoned home, never to be seen again, in “Adela’s House,” while a broken-down car causes a tenuous marriage to disintegrate in “Spiderweb.” At their best, stories such as “An Invocation of the Big-Eared Runt” recall Stephen King at his most literary, grounding supernatural horror allegories in a detailed realist tableau. But even the weaker sections convey the singular strangeness of life as a woman in Argentina, where instability seems to haunt every facet of existence—the electricity, the currency, the concept of family—and sudden, otherworldly violence is always at one’s doorstep. Enriquez’s debut collection is elevated by its vivid locale and its deft inclusion of genre sensibilities.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2016
    A dozen eerie, often grotesque short stories set in contemporary Argentina. This debut collection by Buenos Aires-based writer Enriquez is staggering in its nuanced ability to throw readers off balance. In the opening story, "The Dirty Kid," a graphic designer becomes obsessed with a homeless pregnant woman and her son, a mania that worsens when the decapitated body of a child is dumped nearby. The author's rich descriptions of narcos, addicts, muggers, and transvestites quickly transport readers to an alien world. There are two very different tales of haunted houses in "The Inn," in which a tourist hotel built on a former police barracks contains forces unknown; and "Adela's House," in which the title character steps through a door in an abandoned house--and is never seen again. "The Intoxicated Years" is a sly accounting of five years of increasingly severe drug use among a clique of friends. Then there are the truly monstrous stories that are likely to make readers peek between their fingers. In "No Flesh Over Our Bones," an anorexic woman anthropomorphizes the human skull she finds in the street. "Vera and I are going to be beautiful and light, nocturnal and earthy; beautiful, the crusts of earth unfolding us. Hollow, dancing skeletons." In "The Neighbor's Courtyard," a depressed woman is convinced a neighbor has chained up a young boy until she's face to face with the feral, fanged boy, who eats her cat: "Paula didn't run. She didn't do anything while the boy devoured the soft parts of the animal, until his teeth hit her spine and he tossed the cadaver into a corner." Still others reveal hidden humanity. In "End of Term," two unwell girls find common ground. Finally, the title story chronicles a bit of mass hysteria in which women start self-immolating as a protest against domestic violence. A rich and malcontent stew of stories about the everyday terrors that wait around each new corner.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2016
    Black magic, heartbreak, street kids, derelict houses, a child who kills babies, and women who protest domestic violence by setting themselves on fire. Argentine-born Enriquez's dark and febrile imagination has attracted international attention; this collection has sold to 20 countries.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Dave Eggers "Mariana Enriquez is a mesmerizing writer who demands to be read. Like Bolaño, she is interested matters of life and death, and her fiction hits with the force of a freight train. "The Dirty Kid" is one of the most memorable and brave stories I've read in years. It lingers in the mind for weeks, and redefined my sense of Buenos Aires, a city I love dearly."
  • Laura van den Berg "When I read Mariana Enríquez's stories, I forget where I am. I miss my subway stop. I hold my breath. Her fiction is that pulse-racingly superb, that electric and original. Mariana Enríquez is an essential voice in contemporary fiction, and The Things We Lost in the Fire will be a sensation."
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