This short story collection (208 pages) was published in October of 2022 by Riverhead Books. The book takes you to modern Argentina. David read Seven Empty Houses and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.
This collection of short stories is described as ‘literary horror.’ We’ll take it a step further and say, in the most complimentary way, this book could be the thesis for a Master’s degree in creepy.
You know that feeling when you’re drifting off to sleep, maybe thinking about your to-do list, then things get weird? Details are amplified. People start doing things they wouldn’t normally do. And before you know it, you’re jolted awake, thinking, ‘What was that?!’ This book is that experience on the page.
All of the stories begin as domestic tales about people who seem to be just on the other side of a breakdown — and then go to uncomfortable and rewarding places.
In the first story, two women — a mother and a daughter — drive around the city, looking at houses in an upscale neighborhood. We don’t know why they’re doing that, but it’s clear they’ve done it many times before. And then, who’s behind the wheel, makes a wrong turn and gets the car stuck in a yard. The wheels are spinning, but the car doesn’t move. In the process of trying to extract the car, Mom wrecks the lawn. When the unhappy owner of the home confronts mother and daughter, the scene shifts to a tense examination of racism and classism — and the weirdness just gets more profound for our two heroines.
Another story is about a man who simply can’t accept his son’s death. It explores grief and how we haunt each other. In another tale, a man hosts a get-together with his ex-wife, their children, and her new boyfriend. It’s not going well, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that the host’s elderly parents are in the backyard, naked, dancing, and playing with a water hose. Such is the power of Schweblin’s writing that it will make you wonder if we should all be out naked, dancing in the backyard, playing with a hose.
The most impactful story is ‘Breath from the Depths.’ It tells of an older woman named Lola who starts in a bad position and goes downhill from there:
The list was part of a plan: Lola suspected that her life had been too long, so simple and light that now it lacked the weight needed to disappear. After studying the experiences of some acquaintances, she had concluded that even in old age, death needed a final push. An emotional nudge, or a physical one. And she couldn’t give that to her body. She wanted to die, but every morning, inevitably, she woke up again.
As her story unfolds, she slowly spirals into dementia. She forgets things. She grows paranoid. She realizes something is wrong but can’t quite put her finger on it. Lola writes lists to help herself manage, but then is surprised by the list when she sees it again. Again, Schweblin draws the reader into the story, so we experience the unsettling stages of decline as Lola does. What’s real? What’s fabricated? When did we write that note? Is the kid next door conspiring with the husband?
This book might not be a ride that everyone will want to take. But this immersion into the lives of Argentinian women is a darkly compelling journey.
My mother-in-law put up a Christmas tree over the fireplace. It’s a gas fireplace with artificial rocks, and she insists on bringing it along every time she moves to a new apartment. The Christmas tree is pint-sized, skinny, and a light, artificial green. It has round red ornaments, two gold garlands, and six Santa Claus figures dangling from the branches like a club of hanged men… the Santa Clauses’ eyes are not painted exactly over the ocular depressions where they should be. — Samanta Schweblin
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