cover image The Dangers of Smoking in Bed

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed

Mariana Enriquez, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. Hogarth, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-13407-8

The alleys and slums of Buenos Aires supply the backdrop to Enriquez’s harrowing and utterly original collection (after Things We Lost in the Fire), which illuminates the pitch-dark netherworld between urban squalor and madness. In the nightmarish opener, “Angelita Unearthed,” the bones of a rotting child reanimate after being dug up; likewise, in “Back When We Talked to the Dead,” the dead foretell dread using a Ouija board. Themes of obsession and the arcane come to light in “Our Lady of the Quarry,” where a band of teenage girls turn to witchcraft to snare the object of their desires; “Meat,” which follows two grave-robbing fans of a recently deceased rock star; and “Where Are You, Dear Heart?”, in which a self-described “heartbeat fetishist” gets off by holding a stethoscope to a diseased man’s chest. Things grow darker still in “Rambla Triste,” as the victims of a pedophile ring are resurrected in Barcelona as “incarnations of the city’s madness,” and in “Kids Who Come Back,” the book’s epic and visceral centerpiece, in which the missing, damned, and destitute begin returning home. (Which isn’t to discount the grotesque title story or the exorcism at the heart of “The Well.”) Finally, there are the pair of film fanatics who undertake made-to-order pornography only to quickly get in over their heads in “No Birthdays or Baptisms.” Enriquez’s wide-ranging imagination and ravenous appetite for morbid scenarios often reaches sublime heights. Adventurous readers will be rewarded in these trips into the macabre—and hopefully they’ll be able to find their way back. (Jan.)