It’s a twisted mix of nightmarish desires and ink-black gothic, slick with bodily fluids, that will leave you shaken but secretly rather thrilled.
Everything about these 12 tales feels shockingly alive, particularly the dead, who often force themselves into proceedings with alarming, sometimes darkly comic consequences. The violence of Argentina’s murderous dictatorship stalks the pages too — as in the deeply unsettling Kids Who Come Back, in which all of Buenos Aires’s missing children suddenly reappear, and Back When We Talked to the Dead, in which a group of girls try to summon some of the disappeared with their ouija board.
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed shares the exuberantly macabre sensibilities of her English-language debut, Things We Lost in the Fire, which it in fact predates. Its dozen tales, each as pitchy as the next, conjure up spirits, demons and dead babies, turning them loose in bougie shopping districts, seaside hotels and slums... She’s already attracted comparisons with Shirley Jackson, but lashings of local mysticism and a flair for transgressive imagery make her an arrestingly original talent. Do all of these stories come off? Not quite. Nevertheless, it’s a collection amply deserving of its spot on the longlist for this year’s International Booker prize.
Enríquez, who is from Buenos Aires and sets most of her stories there, operates on the boggy ground between recognisable daily life and the dark-running streams of fear, rational and irrational, we all have inside us. This is the second collection of hers to be translated into English by Megan McDowell, following 2017’s Things We Lost in the Fire, but in fact The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is the older of the two, having first appeared in Argentina in 2009. It isn’t quite as strong as the other, but it does contain a handful of brilliantly unsettling stories. If you want to wince, flinch, and momentarily panic when you switch on a light, this is a book for you.
Importantly, Buenos Aires itself — which is where the majority of these stories are set — is also central to the collection. But Enriquez does more than simply highlight the darker sides of urban life, though gangs of child prostitutes, crime and poverty are commonplace. Her portrait of the city is one in which its sprawling, teeming streets are a halfway house between the living and the dead, and the metropolis itself hums with a malevolent sentience. As one character suggests, its mentally disturbed citizens are best understood as “incarnations of the city’s madness”...
Well worth any upset they cause, these glittering, gothic stories are a force to be reckoned with, and Enriquez’s talent and fearlessness is something to behold.