The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Published by Granta Books, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Taking the stories as individual pieces, this collection was a bit hit-and-miss for me, but Enriquez’s overall style and approach were so striking that I’m very glad to have picked it up.
Things start off a little tamer than I anticipated, but as we progress, the collection leans further into its dark, unnerving core – and it’s all the better for it. Strong concepts and haunting imagery ensure the best stories will linger with me for quite some time. Enriquez does an excellent job of subtly ramping up the tension and leaving you with a sense of dread – even in the stories where little actually happens.
The stand out stories for me came in the middle of the collection: Meat, about the devoted fans of a recently deceased popstar, and Where Are You, Dear Heart?, about a woman’s increasingly extreme efforts to satisfy her unusual fetish. Both explore the dangers of obsession and unfettered desire.
Executed to various degrees of success, other memorable setups include a woman haunted by the infantile ghost of an ancestor; a group of teens who use a Ouija board to try and contact the dead; and a city plagued by the sudden reappearance of all its missing children, all of whom remain physically unchanged though undeniably different.
The less effective stories have a tendency to fizzle out after an intriguing start, destined to be quickly forgotten. Still, the collection as a whole is well worth checking out for anyone who likes their horror subtle yet disturbing. This particular offering is elevated by bold tableaus, and is carried throughout by strong prose that has been seamlessly translated from the original Spanish.