The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, revisits themes found in her 2017 collection Things We Lost in the Fire. Her disquieting stories, populated by ghosts, disappeared adults and exploited children, examine economic pain, social unrest and violence through the lens of literary horror. Characters observing the slow burn of a society in decay find themselves asking, as the titular story does, "Why not just let the fire keep going and do its job?"
Supernatural elements become compelling metaphors for societal breakdown. In "The Cart," a poor neighborhood experiences bad luck after a homeless man--worse off than the people there--is driven away. "There had to be an accumulation of misfortune for the neighborhood to feel like something strange was going on," says the narrator. Jobs are lost, utilities turned off and food is hard to come by, causing people to turn feral to survive. The only family left untouched by bad luck, one that offered some comfort to the homeless man, is forced to flee before neighbors turn on them. "We were scared, but fear doesn't look the same as desperation," the son in this family knows.
In "Kids Who Come Back," children in Buenos Aires who were lost or disappeared begin to reappear, unchanged, at the same time. People have "no idea what was happening and couldn't explain it; they only knew that they were very afraid." It's impossible to miss the fear that permeates The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, yet even as these stories provide chills, they elicit a deep feeling of sadness for innocence lost. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.