Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enriquez was a unique reading experience. I distinctly recall being left somewhat disappointed by a number of the stories in this collection, especially the first few. They all would end with an explosion of nightmarish and violent imagery with complex supernatural elements, definitely following the end-with-a-bang mentality. And this endings would be a let down because Enriquez did such a good job building the atmosphere, sending the reader deeper into her characters’ nightmares, and you’d know that something horrifying was looming ever-closer. The endings just didn’t seem to add as much to the story as I had hoped, and took on the quality of a lot of shock and flash lacking substance. But at some point in the collection the complex themes and ideas of the stories started to align fantastically with the deeply disturbing imagery that Enriquez is so gifted at creating in every story.
While reading, this transition didn’t jump out at me, there wasn’t a point where I suddenly felt Now these stories are reaching their full potential. I think this was because each story, even the most flawed ones, were so close to being great that when they started to be truly great the change wasn’t surprising, it was expected. Looking back through the book I discovered a pretty clear point of transition, a surprisingly distinct one that I’m surprised I didn’t notice sooner. It happens after the story Spiderweb, a story that’s strengths are constantly distracted by a character so one-dimensionally horrible and annoying that the ending, instead of feeling overly violent and horrific while sacrificing subtlety which the endings of the early stories tend to do, felt too subtle. You wanted the bastard to meet a most awful fate.
Immediately after Spiderweb, starting with End of Term, the stories are near-perfect. The best story in the entire collection is Under The Black Water, where Enriquez finds the perfect combination of her chilling gothic imagery, underlying political commentary on the tumultuous consequences of Argentina’s chaotic 20th century, and incredibly haunting explorations of grief and madness. After this come the final two stories, including the title story, which maintain the quality of greatness the entire collection is always on the verge of reaching.