cover image Seven Empty Houses

Seven Empty Houses

Samanta Schweblin. Riverhead, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-0-525-54139-4

International Booker Prize finalist Schweblin (Fever Dream) centers her undercooked collection on families defined by an absence, whether physical or of intimacy, memory, or sanity. In the eerie and propulsive opener, “None of That,” a young woman and her disturbed mother get stuck in a wealthy neighborhood. After the mother connives her way into the landowner’s house, she compulsively tidies and catalogs the woman’s belongings. In “Out,” a woman flees her apartment wearing a bathrobe during a fight with her husband, only to have a disconcerting night on the town with a man who claims to be the building’s “escapist.” Unfortunately, Schweblin’s stories are far more evocative than substantive, and their sense of uncanny weightlessness—told in brisk, nondescript prose, featuring nameless and indistinct narrators and aimless plots—diminishes intrigue and leaves the reader hungry for deeper imaginative leaps. The exception is “Breath from the Depths,” which follows Lola, a retiree, as she descends into dementia and feuds with the young mother across the street. Schweblin can evoke a mesmerizing, eerie tone, but too often does little more than that. (Oct.)