“Things We Lost in the Fire” by Mariana Enriquez

Good evening, Story366! Here we are on Day 3 of Short Story Month and I’m still reading new books and blogging. Hooray for me! Still no promises on doing this every day this month—in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to do that—but hey, who’s counting?

Third day back and already I’m starting in on the weather, but holy fuck, it’s been raining. And I when I say raining, I mean raining raining, bull-blown thunderstorms and flash flood warnings. Yesterday? Beautiful sunshine. Every other day since forever? Pouring down rain. Right now? Downpour. Roads are closed, events are being canceled, and I actually wore a poncho to campus today. When will the madness end?

But hey, more rain equals more time to sit inside and read, right? High five! I spent a rainy afternoon in my office reading from Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez, her recent collection from Hogarth. Enriquez is an Argentinian writer who writes in Spanish and has for a long time, very successfully, but this is her first collection in English, translated by Megan Mcdowell. As with Eric Puchner and Lesley Nneka Arimah the last couple of days, I’ve not read anything by Enriquez before, but again, that’s now been rectified.

I read three random stories in Things We Lost in the Fire, starting with the title story, then moving around to titles that interested me. I enjoyed “The Intoxicated Years,” about three women who delve deeper and deeper into substances as their friendships evolve. I also hit “No Flesh over Our Bones,” which follows a young girl who finds a skull in an alley and makes it her best friend. For today’s post, I’ll write about that title story, however, as it’s the one that’s sticking with me, though I easily could have written about any of these, as they’re all rather excellent.

“Things We Lost in the Fire” is certainly the most serious story I read from Enriquez’s book, chronicling an unfortunate phenomenon, women lighting themselves on fire in ceremonial protests, protests protesting several incidents of men setting their women on fire. The story begins with a stark description of a character known as subway girl, a burn victim who panhandles through the city subway system, attacked and nearly killed by a psycho boyfriend. Subway girl is as tragic a story as a writer can make up, but Enriquez makes her compelling, too, drawing us in right away.

A second woman’s story follows, a supermodel dating a soccer star—this time, the victim doesn’t survive. Sadly, while both subway girl and the model lie unconscious in the hospital, post-attack, their respective boyfriends tell the police the women set themselves on fire, generally hoping the women die so they don’t get indicted. This is what eventually inspires, ironically, the women to light themselves on fire in protest, the fact that everyone finds it so easy to believe in the first place.

The story is told through the eyes of Silvina, a young woman who witnesses a lot of the horrors of this abuse, both in person (she encounters subway girl regularly) and on TV. Silvina’s mother and mother’s best friend (an aunt-type) become heavily involved in the movement as well, giving aid to the burned women, both before and after they make their crucial choice.

The pure tragedy of “Things We Lost in the Fire” makes it worth telling, but Enriquez gives us a whole lot to think about. What’s most depressing about this story is how easy all of this is to believe, that a patten of abuse like this is possible—not a stretch at all, if you’ve been watching the news—and that it would lead to this sort of statement, this sort of reaction. Maybe it’s the 2017 in me talking, but this story seems terrifyingly real, maybe too real. And that’s why it’s so powerful, why I enjoyed it as much as I did.

Overall, I’m really liking Things We Lost in the Fire, the first of Mariana Enriquez’s books to come to us in English. I look forward to delving into each and every story in this collection. This is a real talent, someone to check out for sure.