Monday, March 6, 2017

Unsettling Stories from Argentina: Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

The stories in Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez are more than eerie or creepy. They are disturbing, upsetting, and some are even repulsive.

A Goblin-like creature sinks its teeth into a cat. A woman's husband conveniently disappears. A woman obsesses over a skull, driving her boyfriend from her life. Women walk into bonfires to be deformed, or starve themselves to be thin, or are 'ordered' to cut themselves. A priest working in the barrio becomes suicidally insane.

In 1970 an Argentinian exchange student stayed with my family for a weekend exchange. His father owned a prosperous shoe factory. We felt his disdain for our blue collar life. He was used to maids and servants and a large home. I learned that his was a country of wealth and poverty.

Reading theses stories I realized how Argentina's bloody political past has left its imprint on the Argentinian people's souls. I shuddered while reading about the street children of poverty, six-year-olds turning tricks to feed their addiction, the hopeless barrios with their shrines to cults or Expeditus, the unofficial patron saint of speedy cases. The ghost of a violent past is ever present.

In the story Under the Black Water cops are charged with beating and killing two teens, dumping their bodies in the polluted Riacheulo river that runs through Buenos Aries. Only one body has been found. The cops are jaunty and sure they are untouchable. The DA on the case decides to visit the scene of the crime. The taxi driver won't even take her inside the boundary of the dangerous slum.

The children who live along the river are mutants from the lead, chromium, and toxic waste dumped into the river. They are born with extra arms and deformed faces.
"It was the most polluted river in the world, experts affirmed, Argentina had taken the river winding around its capital, which could have made for a beautiful day trip, and polluted it almost arbitrarily, practically for the fun of it."
She is looking for the priest of the church, who she has been unable to contact.
"The building was no longer a church...The crucifix had disappeared...In place of the altar there was a wooden pole stuck into a common metal flower pot. And impaled on the pole was a cow's head."
The priest tells her that the missing boy "woke up the thing sleeping under the water." Outside a procession is carrying something on a mattress.

"You know, for years I thought that rotten river was a sign of our ineptitude. How we never think about the future," the priest tells her. But now he realizes the pollution and filth was intended to cover "something up, something they didn't want to let out, and they buried it under layers and layers of oil and mud!"

The story concludes open-ended. The reader can decide what evil lurks, and if it is physical or spiritual.

I see these stories as warnings of the evil we can unleash, the psychic and spiritual deformities.

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories
Mariana Enrique
Hogarth
$24 hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-451-49511-2