‘An Invocation of the Big-Eared Runt’ by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell

He had studied the ten crimes of the tour in detail so that he could narrate them well, with humor and suspense, and he’d never gotten scared—they didn’t affect him at all. That’s why, when he saw the apparition, he felt more surprise than terror. It was definitely him, no doubt about it. He was unmistakable: The large, damp eyes that looked full of tenderness but were really dark wells of idiocy. The drab sweater and his low stature, his puny shoulders, and in his hands the thin rope he’d used to demonstrate to the police, emotionless all the while, how he had tied up and strangled his victims. And then there were his enormous ears, pointed and affable. His name was Cayetano Santos Godino, but his nickname was El Petiso Orejudo: the Big-Eared Runt. He was the most famous criminal on the tour, maybe the most famous in Argentine police record. A murderer of children and small animals. A murderer who didn’t know how to read or add, who couldn’t tell you the days of the week, and who kept a box full of dead birds under his bed.

I have no hesitation in recommending the author’s collection Things We Lost in the Fire as one of the most remarkable books of short stories I have ever read. It is a must-read for any writer looking for a gimlet-eyed attention to prose, fastidious structure, and a poetic imagination nevertheless deeply informed by a world where politics is the stuff of life and death. The specificity of culture renders these tales in bold, gestural strokes. Every one is a gem and every page is to be savoured like fine dining. To say that this is ‘magical realism’ is almost an insult, and certainly reductive. It’s more like Aickman. No. It’s better than Aickman. ‘An Invocation of the Big-Eared Runt’ is not only one of the best titles I have ever come across, but one of the best stories. It involves a murder tour of Buenos Aires, but to tell you more would, again, be an insult.

First published in Spanish in Spain as Las coas que perdimos en el fuego, Editorial Anagrama, 2016, and in English in Things We Lost in the Fire, Portobello Books 2017. It can be read here

‘Spiderweb’ by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell

“I think political violence leaves scars, like a national PTSD,” Mariana Enriquez, said in an interview with Literary Hubin 2017. And, later in the same piece: “In general, I don’t think you can take the power back, not completely, but you can break the silence.” This Argentinian sensibility permeates the landscapes of Things We Lost in the Fire, via imagery that might in other hands seem both wilful and empty. I read the title story on a train journey, in tandem with Gore Capitalism, Sayak Valencia’s analysis of the “Endriago” subjectivity. The two texts seemed to complete one another quite naturally, threatening to unmask the single violent landscape that founds both. I might choose any of these stories as my favourite Enriquez. But let’s say–speaking of taking back the power–that it’s ‘Spiderweb’, and quote from it her description of a peacock’s tail: “the feathers with their eyes, beautiful but disturbing. Many eyes arrayed above the animal, which walks so heavily”. It’s “a beautiful animal,” she says, “but one that always seems tired.” These stories seem to be exactly that animal. Things We Lost in the Fire is translated by Megan McDowell.

First published in The New Yorker, December 19 & 26, 2016. Collected in Things We Lost in the Fire, London; New York: Hogarth, 2017

‘The Intoxicated Years’, by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell

 My God, is Mariana Enríquez incredible. Things We Lost in the Fire is one of the strongest collections I’ve ever read, and I think this is my favorite story among the twelve on this list. Shirley Jackson fans, you MUST read her! I find the way “The Intoxicated Years” moves through time incredibly moving, as it traces the rise and fall of a friendship between a group of teenage girls in post-dictatorship, late 80s/early 90s Argentina.

From Things We Lost in the Fire, Portobello Books, 2017. Available to read online in Granta here