Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Peps' Reading List: Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez


Things We Lost in the Fire was among a list of February 2017 releases that readers should watch out for... I can't remember where I read that article or if that article actually had a description of the contents of the book. I knew it was a short story collection, but, for some reason, I was expecting stories about women and their struggles. I was right... partly, because the stories are narrated mostly by women and they represent different roles in the Argentinian society. But there's a different layer to the stories of the anthology presented by Mariana Enriquez... one that I wasn't expecting (which I could have actually easily found out about had I researched prior to reading the book), but ended up loving it. Even if loving it also meant getting terrified by it.

Things We Lost in the Fire is made up of twelve different stories, set in different parts of Argentina, and, with the exception of one particular story, narrated by women who encompass different age groups and circumstances in life. Each one has their own struggles, whether it's in their role in society or in their households, or if they are fighting personal battles or battles for the good of the community. You encounter characters who are sure of who they are and those who are hiding their true natures, characters who act out on their feelings and those who wish their inner voices could be heard. 

But having (mostly) female lead characters isn't the only connection among the stories. Things We Lost in the Fire starts out its stories innocuously enough, usually with the narrator's account of her current life and her struggles. What truly ties the stories together isn't an overarching larger story or even connected characters, but the stories of females who encounter among their everyday existence the presence of the supernatural. Since I didn't know that the supernatural was part of the formula, I was surprised when it did rear its head in the first story, which I thought was about a woman of means who lived in a poorer part of the city and her unlikely relationship with a homeless child. What I didn't expect was a story that involved the more localized religions that the Argentinians follow, especially among the poor, with some 'deities' exacting a far more involved sacrifice than penance and praying.

There are varying degrees and forms of the supernatural influences in each story, which mirrors the different lives of the women who narrate the stories. There are ghosts, monsters and strange obsessions. The supernatural elements of each story can differ in how they are presented, with some subtly interwoven in the narrative, while others build up on the dread. Some give you a feeling of unease while others straight out terrify you. And given Argentina and the Philippine's shared Spanish influences, the horror elements of the stories feel unnervingly familiar and definitely added to my overall reading experience.

Things We Lost in the Fire features a delicate balance of horror and social commentary. The supernatural might be the first thing you take away from each story, but it doesn't detract or diminish from the more realistic struggles of the characters. It's probably why the horror stands out so much, because their lives are so familiar, their circumstances easily mirrored in other countries outside of Argentina. There are some stories that make you question which element you found more terrifying... the supernatural or the real life circumstances of the narrator. Even so, you will find yourself breezing through the pages, wondering what the next story has in store for you.

Would I have wanted to know ahead of time that Things We Lost in the Fire is actually a horror story collection? Sure. But, then again, if I did, I might have decided to put it off to read at a later time and ended up missing out on a great read. I do need time, though, to get over Adela's House.

Happy reading!

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