Enriquez’s stories are historically aware and class-conscious, but her characters never avail themselves of sentimentalism or comfort. She’s after a truth more profound, and more disturbing, than whatever the strict dictates of realism will allow ... There is something almost biblical about the evil that threads through this collection, only the evil here is more vicious and unyielding, without the consolations of God or rescue. This isn’t to say the stories are unreadable — far from it. They are propulsive and mesmerizing, laced with vivid descriptions of the grotesque (another skillful translation by McDowell) and the darkest humor ... I will be haunted for some time by the indelible images in this book.
Enríquez uses supernatural elements as a metaphor for the problems of coming to terms with brutal civil repression: the fight between those for whom it’s convenient to forget and those whose losses won’t let them. The collection dramatises what it must have been like to be terrorised by the state, and the mood of claustrophobic terror extends to the stories that focus on contemporary ills, including drugs and extreme poverty ... [Enriquez] transcends the sensational plot elements to achieve a powerful and humane vision.
Other stories don’t feel as complete. Some are mere sketches of an idea or image, like a short ghost story told by campfire. Often it’s difficult to distinguish Enríquez’s female protagonists from one another. But the stories with more fully developed characters resonate, even as they delve into horror and the supernatural. Things We Lost in the Fire is a searing, striking portrait of the social fabric of Argentina and the collective consciousness of a generation affected by a particular stew of history, religion and imagination. Mariana Enríquez has a truly unique voice and these original, provocative stories will leave a lasting imprint.