book review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen






MANSFIELD PARK by Jane Austen
★★★★★
originally published in 1814




Full disclosure that I wouldn’t exactly call myself the biggest Austen fan — I can recognize where Pride and Prejudice is romantic and Sense and Sensibility is charming, but personally I remain curiously unmoved by most of her works. But I still went ahead and read through all of them this year, and a few months after having finished this project, the one that stands out to me head and shoulders above the rest is Mansfield Park. This is the only Austen novel I actively enjoyed reading; the only one I thought about when I put it down; the only one that I actually think will be worth revisiting. I’m sure some of you will think I’m being a contrarian just for the sake of it, given that this is widely regarded as her worst novel, but hopefully I can convince you of some of its merits by the end of this (highly anticipated????) review.

One thing that I tend to look for in books, strictly as a personal preference, is high stakes, which are something that’s conspicuously lacking from most Austen novels. This isn’t a criticism; I can’t fault her for something she isn’t trying to do. But it’s the reason I can’t really get into romance narratives; I need there to be something bigger going on than ‘will x and y end up together’. (This isn’t confined solely to the romance genre; it’s the reason Much Ado About Nothing is one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays. Sorry.)

Mansfield Park just had that elevated je ne sais quoi that I was looking for. Unlike most of Austen’s heroines, Fanny Price is poor, with little to no prospects in her life, until she’s plucked from obscurity at age 11 to live with her wealthy cousins at the titular Mansfield Park, who give her quite the Cinderella treatment, with the exception of her cousin Edmund, who actually dares to pay her the time of day. Consequently, Fanny is nothing like the brash Emma Woodhouse or the self-assured Lizzy Bennet or any of the other bold, brazen Austen heroines that are so universally adored — and it’s because she quite literally cannot afford to be. That Fanny’s social status is so precarious added a layer of intrigue for me — the stakes may not be sky high, but suddenly there’s something darker and more sinister at play. 

Fanny herself is, you guessed it!, my favorite heroine for similar reasons. It’s easy to dismiss Fanny for being dull, quiet, and submissive, but the context of her upbringing can’t be ignored. In her rousing defense of Fanny Price from a 2014 Paris Review essay, Tara Isabella Burton writes:

“The qualities of your typical Austen heroine—charming, forward, quick at learning—are rooted in privilege […] And so Fanny is never given the chance to exhibit the qualities of a “good” Austen heroine; she’s told from childhood that she is dull, stupid, and inadequate until she herself internalizes “my situation—my foolishness and awkwardness.” […] In wanting Fanny to be cleverer, bolder, sexier than she is—in wanting her to be more like Mary—we become complicit in the world of Mansfield Park, and in the politics of exclusion through which Mansfield thrives.”

This is what I find so dismaying about the way a lot of people talk about Mansfield Park. To be bored by the novel is one thing, fair enough; but to hate Fanny for her timidity when she is a poor, neglected, emotionally abused child living under the thumb of her cruel and capricious family who expect her to perform nothing but gratitude while failing to allow her a seat at their table is something I can’t quite understand. I also can’t imagine reading a passage like this and not being moved, or maybe this just hit too hard when I think back on the experience of being a Shy Kid who used to live in the background of other people’s stories:

“She could not equal them in their warmth. Her spirits sank under the glow of theirs, and she felt herself becoming too nearly nothing to both, to have any comfort in having been sought by either.”

When Fanny stands up for herself by denying a wealthy suitor that everyone in her life wants her to accept, that moment hits all the harder for the fact that you know exactly what this moment of defiance is costing her. For me, that moment is the boldest display of strength that any Austen character shows.

Choosing to frame this story around Fanny in the first place is also a choice worth examining; her foil, Mary Crawford, an interesting character in her own right, has more in common with Austen’s other heroines than Fanny does. This book isn’t interested in selling the reader a romantic fantasy of living in Regency England, a narrative which could have been achieved quite easily by telling this story through Mary’s eyes — more than in any other work, the social commentary takes center stage, and it was this too that compelled me.

I’ve heard some people say that this book is more intriguing than it is enjoyable, but I have to disagree there too. The sequence of chapters leading up to the play is the most tension I have personally experienced in any Austen novel; I flew through those pages. Say what you will about Edmund and how much or little you personally would want to date him, but I felt Fanny’s love for Edmund in a way that I couldn’t personally feel in a single other Austen novel. I’m not saying that her other heroines weren’t actually in love; just that their love wasn’t communicated to me in a deeper way than simply reading the words on a page. Fanny felt like a real person to me in a way her characters often do not.

This is easily Austen’s most didactic and most conservative work, and my enjoyment of it isn’t meant to be taken as a tacit endorsement of every idea she espouses here about Christian virtue and class and social status. In fact, I agree with almost none of it. But I don’t enjoy books for being a series of observations on life and society that I happen to agree with; I enjoy them for compelling me, moving me, challenging me, and making me think. Mansfield Park achieved all of that and none of Austen’s other novels did, and for that it is my favorite, and one that I wish more people would spend some time with.

book review: Cassandra by Christa Wolf | #WITmonth2021






CASSANDRA: A NOVEL AND FOUR ESSAYS by Christa Wolf
translated from the German by Jan van Heurck
★★★★☆
FSG, 1983





I read and adored Christa Wolf’s Medea years ago — a fiercely human and political retelling of the myth — and have been wanting to read Cassandra ever since. Oddly, I’ve been misremembering for years that these books have the same English-language translator; they do not, and I think that factor alone might be responsible for the fact that I had a stronger reaction to Medea than I did to Cassandra. Jan van Heurck’s translation here is serviceable, but John Cullen’s Medea translation really sings in a way this one does not. (Hannah, whose favorite novel is Cassandra, has assured me that the German-language prose in Cassandra is much stronger than in Medea, but knows other English-language readers who share my assessment of the two.)

In this volume published by FSG in the 80s, Wolf’s novel Cassandra is published alongside four essays which were originally presented as a lecture series. The first two are travel diaries that detail Wolf’s journey to ancient sites in Greece, the next is a personal journal entry, and the final one is a letter. Through these essays the reader comes to not only see what a passion project this novel was for Wolf, but also to see the myriad of factors from her contemporary sociopolitical perspective that influenced her perception of the Cassandra character. She writes of the ways in which her concept of Cassandra evolve throughout her research:

The character continually changes as I occupy myself with the material; the deadly seriousness, and everything heroic and tragic, is disappearing; accordingly, compassion and unilateral bias in her favor are disappearing, too. I view her more soberly, even with irony and humor. I see through her.

The novel, which comes first in this bind-up, is essentially a monologue from Cassandra’s perspective, narrating her account of the Trojan War as her death draws nearer. Like Medea, this is a very political retelling, focused not only on Cassandra’s life but also the machinations of the Trojan court, notably subverting the romantic notion that the war was waged for Helen’s honor and beauty, instead exposing that that was a smoke screen for Greek occupation, actually driven by an interest in Troy’s trade routes.

This book in both of its halves — novel and essays — is a beautiful and thoughtful meditation on the destructive effects of war on the individual. I’m glad I finally made the time to read it, I only wish I were capable of reading it in the original German, in which I suspect it may have affected me a bit more.

book review: No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder






NO VISIBLE BRUISES by Rachel Louise Snyder
★★★★★
Bloomsbury, 2019




I am a notoriously slow audiobook listener, but this was ridiculous even for me; I started this book in March and I’m just finishing it now on the last day of August. But it wasn’t, as is often the case for me, because I never felt like listening to it; I would start playing this book constantly and only be able to listen for a couple of minutes because I felt like my skin was crawling. Which is, of course, exactly what a book like this should be, so, no complaints, only apologies that it took me this long to be able to stomach it.

In No Visible Bruises, journalist Rachel Louise Snyder investigates the state of domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) in the U.S. She anchors her thesis to a Montana woman, Michelle Monson Mosure, whose husband Rocky shot and killed Michelle and her two children in 2001, before killing himself. This tragedy was not out of the blue; Rocky had a long history of violence and Michelle had known that he was capable of killing her. When Rocky was briefly incarcerated for breaking and entering into Michelle’s family home, Michelle worked up the courage to file a restraining order — which she then quickly recanted as soon as Rocky was bailed out. Michelle reached out for help and failed to receive it, and Snyder tells her story not only in order to upend common misconceptions about intimate partner violence (the most notable and infuriating of which being, “why didn’t she just leave?”), but also to examine the ways in which her and her children’s deaths could have been prevented.

The focus of the book then turns to the many government-funded programs that have been launched over the years to address intimate partner violence, to varying degrees of success. Snyder puts a huge emphasis in her research on rehabilitation, speaking to perpetrators directly and attending group rehab sessions. It’s a jarring transition, this shift in focus from victim to perpetrator, but it’s a necessary one. The function of this book isn’t merely to dismiss fallacies about intimate partner violence, it’s to address the issue head on and provide insight into what has actually been successful at reducing the crime. Snyder also addresses shelters and police intervention — two commonly cited paths to safety for victims, and she explains the shortcomings of both solutions. The point that she drives home throughout this book is that intimate partner violence doesn’t exist in isolation; it’s caused and influenced by a myriad of social factors which all need to be addressed in their own way, which ultimately involves providing intervention and assistance to perpetrators as well as victims. 

This book is absolutely harrowing but it’s skillfully researched and necessary. There is one thing I’d like to point out though before recommending it — Snyder doesn’t tackle the issue of intimate partner violence within the LGBTQ community specifically, and she often gives she/her pronouns to victims and he/him pronouns to perpetrators when speaking generally. She addresses this in her forward, acknowledging that it’s a generalization based on statistics that she is aware does not encapsulate every instance of intimate partner violence. As it isn’t the aim of this particular project to delve into queer intimate partner violence or to highlight specific instances of women assaulting their male partners, I can’t fault Snyder for not doing that, but it’s worth noting that this is probably the book’s most notable weak area. I do recommend this very highly unless queer intimate partner violence is specifically what you are seeking to learn about.

Women’s Prize 2021 Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

So it’s that time of the year again! The Women’s Prize winner announcement is right around the corner, on September 8. I did actually succeed in my resolution not to read the entire longlist this year, but I somehow ended up reading 10/16, including the entire shortlist.

On the whole, from what I’ve read, I’m pretty ambivalent about this list — there were a couple of real highlights for me, but also a lot of duds, and I think the huge delay between the longlist announcement (March 8) and the winner announcement (September 8) deadened some of my excitement.

Round up of my 2021 Women’s Prize coverage:

Now here’s the shortlist ranked from what I would least to most like to see win.

6. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

This book just fell flat on its face for me — I admired what it was trying to do in its excavation of the dark realities of a small-town Caribbean tourist paradise, but I ultimately felt like its graphic portrayals of trauma were so extreme that they swallowed up the fictional elements, leaving me unconvinced by this story and these characters. That this sort of trauma is true to life, I have no doubt; but in a novel, it wasn’t able to convince me or hold my interest. I also didn’t get on with the writing style at all, meaning I solidly enjoyed reading this book the least.

5. Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Another one that I felt did a poor job at balancing its social commentary with a compelling, convincing narrative; while reading both One-Armed Sister and Unsettled Ground I felt acutely aware that I was reading a fictional story about invented people; Jeanie and Julius never fully came to life for me, and I felt that this book was largely just spinning its wheels without really going anywhere. I felt like I ‘got the point’ fairly early on and then was just waiting for something bigger and better to materialize out of this story.

4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This is the final entry to my ‘did not do a good job at balancing themes and story’ half of this list. While I felt that this book really excelled at its commentary on colorism and racial identity, it left a lot to be desired as a work of fiction. I had a lot of problems with this book — character development, writing style, heavy reliance on coincidence — but I think its biggest offense for me was how poorly it was structured. Of the three shortlisted books that I didn’t enjoy reading, The Vanishing Half would probably offend me the least as a winner: I think these are three really poorly written novels, if I’m being honest, but I felt that The Vanishing Half at least did the best job at its social commentary.

3. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

A really interesting thought-experiment on the inextricable nature of “reality” and “online life”, that I felt didn’t cut any corners in its development of a very harrowing narrative that runs parallel to its commentary on The Internet. I was so impressed by this book but what it didn’t have, for me, was staying power; much as I loved it at the time, I hardly ever think about it now, and when trying to recall the shortlist off the top of my head, this is the one I always forget.

2. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

A richly imaginative work that really stuck with me in its poignant depiction of loneliness. I wasn’t sure about this one going in, but Susanna Clarke’s lush and confident prose lured me in and I ended up enjoying every second that I spent in this strange world. (I also recently realized something about what happens in my head when I read, which is that I visualize interior spaces very vividly, which is probably why this worked so well for me when I don’t tend to love descriptive writing.) But anyway, back to the Women’s Prize — I don’t expect this to win, but I think it would be an exciting and unconventional choice.

1. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

This book does what so many on this shortlist failed to do for me — it takes a heart-wrenching narrative and a wide array of themes and subjects and it synthesizes them into a singular, spectacular novel. This is one of the shorter books on the shortlist and still not a single one of its 264 pages is wasted — Gyasi’s prose is exquisite and her structure and pacing are impeccable. This manages to be both a hard-hitting exploration of the connection between science and faith, and also a moving story about a broken family, and I would love so much to see this exceptional book win next week.

Winner Prediction:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I don’t particularly want to see this book win, but I think it’s inevitable. The Vanishing Half has been lauded for its well-constructed characters, for its compelling storytelling, and for its heart-wrenching depiction of the fractured bond between two sisters. I didn’t personally see or feel any of that, but obviously the judges do, or it wouldn’t have made it this far. The fact that it’s topical, that it’s SO successful in the U.S., and that it’s supposedly a heartbreaking story is the right combination of factors that will give it the edge up above the other shortlisters, I think. It’s hard to describe something that you can’t even fully see, but so many readers are finding a real magic in this novel that I’m really expecting it to take home the prize.

So to recap: the only two novels I’m actively rooting for are Transcendent Kingdom and Piranesi; I don’t expect No One is Talking About This to win and I think I’ll be some sort of combination of impressed and bemused if it does; I’m resigned to The Vanishing Half; and Unsettled Ground and How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House are the two that I’ll be the most actively irritated by.

But those are just my personal thoughts — as always, good luck to all the shortlisters.

What are you guys expecting and hoping to see win?

book review: At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop





AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK by David Diop
translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis
★★★★☆
FSG, 2020




Set in the trenches during World War I, At Night All Blood is Black tells the story of a Senegalese man, Alfa Ndiaye, haunted by the fact that he was unable to mercy-kill his best friend after a serious injury. He then descends into a sort of madness as thoughts of loyalty and cowardice torment him, along with the futility of the racist pantomime he’s forced to take part in — the French would utilize racist stereotypes of African soldiers, arming them with machetes to scare off the Germans — an identity which Alfa both rejects and internalizes. 

This book is violent and graphic and visceral but it’s also sublime. Anna Moschovakis’s translation is stunning and Diop’s writing thrums with a rhythm that can only be described as mesmerizing — reading this book is like being in a trance that you can’t snap out of. The repetition might be an annoyance to some readers, but it was really an asset for me and I felt that it drove home both the monotony of trench warfare and the cyclical nature of Ndiaye’s thoughts as his mental state deteriorates. 

I read this book a couple of months back and to be honest with you I can’t remember why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5; probably more of a gut feeling than anything, as looking back I can’t think of a single thing it did wrong. It’s a deeply, uncomfortably human book about an oft-overlooked piece of WWI history — not an easy read by any means, but really worth spending time with. Genuinely thrilled that this won the International Booker this year.

book review: House of Glass by Susan Fletcher





HOUSE OF GLASS by Susan Fletcher
★★★★★
Virago (UK), 2018




Callum brought House of Glass to my attention ages ago and now that I’ve finally read it, I have to echo his recommendation and add my own disbelief that this book has flown so under the radar. Fans of Laura Purcell and Sarah Waters, get on this! Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think this book ever got a US publisher; it’s a shame, as there is certainly a huge market for this kind of atmospheric British historical fiction over here — a market that is indeed so oversaturated that it’s only natural for some real gems like this to slip through the cracks.

Sort of a slow burn coming of age story à la Jane Eyre meets a modernized Gothic horror novel like The Silent Companions, House of Glass follows Clara, a young woman with osteogenesis imperfecta living in London with her stepfather in the wake of her mother’s death in 1914. She becomes entranced with gardening and is eventually summoned to a manor in Gloucestershire with the task of curating a private greenhouse for the eccentric, frequently absent owner. This is the first time Clara has really left home or done anything on her own given the limitations that her disorder has caused in her life, so it’s partially a novel about Clara finding her way in the world; and it’s also partially a Gothic mystery as Clara attempts to uncover the secrets of Shadowbrook manor.

Again, this novel is quite the slow burn; the mystery element isn’t even introduced until partway through; you do spend quite a bit of time on Clara’s childhood and background. But I do think that ultimately serves the themes of the story quite nicely so I don’t think that’s a negative at all; I just want to firmly clarify that this is a mystery novel much more than it is any kind of thriller.

Susan Fletcher’s writing is strong, her characters are brilliantly crafted, and she interacts with tropes and archetypes from the classics — Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Northanger Abbey — in such a deliberate way, I was really won over by how cleverly constructed this book was. It’s certainly a fun and gripping read on the one hand, but its literary merit shouldn’t be underestimated. Just a very solidly good book all around.

book review: Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews





DAUGHTER OF SPARTA by Claire M. Andrews
★★★★★
Little, Brown and Co., 2021




I had the best time reading this book. I have obviously read quite a few Greek mythology retellings in my day, but still, I was a little worried that this wasn’t going to work for me just because YA is usually not my thing and I tend to prefer my retellings on the more literary side. But it turns out this was a totally different beast from commercial adult retellings like Circe — and it turns out I enjoyed what Claire M. Andrews was doing much better.

Daughter of Sparta is a zippy, action-packed reimagining of the story of Daphne and Apollo. Throw what you know about the original out the window because it bears very little relevance to Andrews’s narrative — though kernels of other related myths are very self-consciously strewn throughout the novel — instead, Andrews confidently takes the reins and pulls the story in a completely different direction. Her Daphne isn’t a helpless maiden at the mercy of Apollo’s whims; she’s the agent of her own story, and also the only one who can save Greece from impending ruin.

This feels very much like a road trip narrative — not literally, of course, as it’s set in Ancient Greece — but it’s that kind of story, nevertheless: two people (or one person and one god, in this case) traveling and facing hurdles together, their own dynamic shifting as the pages turn. What I loved about this was that it felt nothing like all the other million adaptations I’ve read, while still taking place in the original setting (nothing against modern adaptations, which I also quite like; I was just losing faith that true innovation was even possible without moving the setting). This book is just feels very off the beaten path, which is only a compliment in such a saturated subgenre.

All said, Daughter of Sparta is a tremendously fun, self-assured, pacy debut — definitely skewed toward younger readers (as most young adult novels tend to be), which I just want to stress as my blog and Goodreads audience does skew older, and I don’t want to mislead — but if that sounds good to you, this is a fantastically fun romp. I’m highly anticipating the sequel. 


NB. Claire M. Andrews is a friend of mine. Thank you Claire for the advanced copy!

book reviews: Home Before Dark and Survive the Night by Riley Sager




HOME BEFORE DARK by Riley Sager
★★★★☆
Dutton, 2020


I read this book over a year ago and annoyingly never got around to reviewing it — I’m only returning to it now as I’m about to review Riley Sager’s newest offering, Survive the Night, and I’m a completionist. So, here we are. Let’s see if I can come up with a few sentences. 

I’ve read all of Sager’s books now and this isn’t one of my favorites from him; I’d put it second to last, with only The Last Time I Lied below it.

Meaning: I still liked it quite a lot.

Set in a decaying Victorian estate in Vermont (can’t go wrong there), Home Before Dark is a sufficiently eerie and unsettling haunted house horror story which indulges a lot of genre’s tropes, but which doesn’t ultimately subvert them in a very interesting way. I think I had more problems with this novel’s resolution than any of his others, but still, Sager is the absolute master of gripping, pacy thrillers, and this one is no exception; definitely recommended if it catches your eye.




SURVIVE THE NIGHT by Riley Sager
★★★★☆
Dutton, 2021


In the style of a somewhat modernized film noir, Survive the Night tells the story of Charlie, a New Jersey college student looking for a ride home to Ohio on a cold winter’s night. At the college’s ride board (this is set in the 1990s, pre-the sort of technology that we’d use today for this kind of arrangement), she meets Josh Baxter, also heading in that direction, so she gratefully accepts the ride. The only snag: Charlie’s roommate and best friend was recently murdered by a serial killer. The longer Charlie and Josh spend in the car and the more they get chatting, the more Charlie starts realizing that certain details in Josh’s story aren’t adding up, and she starts to wonder if she’s trapped in the car of her roommate’s murderer.

I read this in a single sitting — I think it’s Sager’s most successful page-turner to date, which seems almost counterintuitive; you’d think that a girl being trapped in a car wouldn’t exactly make for the most gripping of reads, but this might be his most tense, terrifying work yet. The set-up may sound simple, but the way this story unfolds could not be more unpredictable if it tried. 

This book DOES however include the cringiest line I’ve ever read in the history of my entire existence, so I cannot in good conscience recommend it without warning you that this is a series of sentences you are going to have to read with your very own eyeballs — apologies for subjecting you to this:

She’s no longer the scared, self-loathing girl she was when she left campus. She’s something else.

A fucking femme fatale.

File this under: more reasons I try to avoid thrillers by men.

Anyway, after my eyes were done rolling into the back of my skull, I pushed onward and yeah, what can I say, I had a lot of fun reading this. Certain elements of the resolution were brilliant, others were a bit silly, but all I can really ask of a thriller is to keep me guessing and keep me on my toes, and Sager always delivers on that front. I’ve become less confident through the years about his ability to write women — see above quote (I thought his female protagonist in his debut, Final Girls, was written brilliantly, which lured me into a false sense of security) — so the more of his books I read, the more the shine does slightly wear off, but I doubt I’ll be able to quit him any time soon; his books are too damn addicting.

Hannah and I have too many ARCs: #ARCsofshame 2021

That’s right, #ARCsofshame is back for the third year running!

If you are not familiar with #ARCsofshame, it is a readathon that Hannah and I host for 2 weeks every September. When I say readathon… Hannah and I are usually the only people who participate. There are no prompts except “read your damn ARCs already.” But you are all more than welcome to join us! Don’t listen to Hannah, there IS a hashtag, #ARCsofshame, which I think Laura Frey coined? Not totally sure on that. But yeah, this is more us publicly holding ourselves accountable than anything, so feel free to join in if that sounds fun to you! We will be doing this the first 2 weeks of September this year.

I made a TBR for this project in 2019 and 2020. To be fair to me, I was never intending to read every book off those lists in a single two week period. But now it’s been… a hot second, so, let’s see how I’ve done.

I have read 9 books off my 2019 list, and 5 books off my 2020 list.

Oops.

So one of my goals for this year is to read one of the unread books off my 2019 list, and one off my 2020 list. From 2019 I’m eyeing The Glass Woman and from 2020 I’m eyeing The Majesties and It is Wood, It is Stone, but I’m not totally settled on any of those.

Otherwise, here’s what I’ve acquired since that I have yet to read:

I’m not reading Cathedral for this as I think it’s over 600 pages, and I will 100% be reading The Women of Troy as I intend to review that for BookBrowse with a mid-September deadline, but otherwise, I’m totally open.

So… what should I read?? Help!

book review: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez | #WITmonth2021





THE DANGERS OF SMOKING IN BED by Mariana Enríquez
translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
★★★☆☆
Hogarth Press, 2021



I wasn’t the biggest fan of Mariana Enríquez’s collection Things We Lost in the Fire, an intriguing collection which I was disappointed to find favored the grotesque over the psychological, something that never fully works for me with horror, so this is more or less what I expected it to be. I did actually like The Dangers of Smoking in Bed much better (in spite of the fact that I’m giving these two collections the same star rating, lol), but it took a while to get going and fair amount of the stories fell into that same trap for me, where I felt like Enríquez was prioritizing shock value over something more organically unsettling. 

Highlights for me were Meat, a sinister story about two teenage girls idolizing a recently-deceased pop star; Where Are You, Dear Heart?, about a woman attempting to satiate her sexual desire for the human heart; and Back When We Talked to the Dead, the collection’s final story which ends it on a deliciously spooky note.

The least successful for me were Angelita Unearthed, the first story which actually caused me to DNF this book two months ago as it suggested to me that this collection would be everything I didn’t like about Things We Lost in the Fire — though I evidently decided to come back to it and give the rest of the book a shot; Kids Who Come Back, a promising concept literalizing the horrors of Argentina’s disappeared children which meanders and ultimately goes nowhere; and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, the titular story which I couldn’t tell you a single thing about as it fell so flat for me.

So even though this didn’t completely work to my tastes, there’s something about Enríquez that I keep finding myself drawn back to. I love her creativity, I love the way she brings different areas of Argentina to life so distinctly, and when her stories strike that eerie, unsettling chord, they work beautifully for me. I’ll probably keep reading her books as they get translated into English, though I’m unsure whether I’ll end up loving any of them or whether they’ll remain in this murky promising-but-unsatisfying territory for me.