My Semi-Fictional Life #153 (A Review of THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE)

Hello peeps. Today I’m going to be catching up on posting reviews for books sent to me by Crown Publishing. Expect multiple posts.

I don’t find much horror short fiction scary. Some of it is entertaining, sure, but I’m rarely frightened. Very few authors seem to understand the power of dread, especially in the indie/small press scene. All too often, these horror authors go for shock value to please their readers. I don’t give a fuck about gore for the sake of gore. When used appropriately, it can unsettle, but it’s rarely used to that effect. Another issue with most horror short fiction is the lack of characters you can care about, or at the very least characters whose motivations you can empathize with. I don’t read a lot of indie/small press horror for these reasons. Most of them are not scary. Sorry. You’re gross to the point of being silly, and that’s fine, but when I want to be scared I head over to the literary market. Because horror is an emotion and it takes a respect for that emotion and attention to minute detail to fill someone with dread.

Simply put, there’s not a single bad story in this collection. Some stories outshine others, but they are all engaging and unsettling. Stories like “The Neighbor’s Courtyard” and “End of Term” are insidious. They worm their way into you and leave a significant impression. And “Adela’s House” was utterly bone-chilling.

One of the biggest standouts in this collection is “Under the Black Water”. There is zero on-screen horror. All the horror is implied. Fucking loved that. It’s not something you see done well these days, mostly because a vast majority of readers “don’t have time for that shit.” These readers want to see the horror, to face it and dissect it and judge it. I will never understand this type of reader. All my life I have loved authors who did not hold my hand. One of the best parts about novels and short stories, what makes them, for me, stand above movies and comics and any other visual media, is the ability to form my own versions of things in my head. You are not limited to someone else’s vision. I am not a reader who wants everything spelled out for them. I’m not here to let you have all the fun, fucker. I wanna play too.

And that is where Mariana Enríquez shines. The best of these stories have no conclusion. You are left in the dark, bumping into slimy, sticky, uncomfortable things. You have to find your own way out and into the light. That, for me, is the best kind of horror. That’s why this book gets all the stars.

My only complaint is completely subjective. I didn’t understand two of the stories for whatever reason. I was still unsettled. I still enjoyed myself. I simply missed the author’s intention. Luckily, one of the stories is explained in the Translator’s Notes at the end of the book. Usually I’d say a good story must stand on its own, but the explanation didn’t treat me like a child and I appreciated that. Because of that, I’m not docking any stars.

In summation: If you’re like me and you like feeling unsettled after reading a horror story and can deal with the author not holding your hand, this collection checks all the boxes. One of the best horror collections I’ve read. Many thanks to Crown Publishing and Hogarth for the review copy, which I received in return for the review you just read.

Final Judgment: Drips dread.

Pic of the Day