Back When We Talked to The Dead, by Mariana Enriquez (trans. Megan Mcdowell)
Read it here in about 30 minutes.
Thinking about portraying themes…
I recently discovered Enriquez, and have been reading Things We Lost in the Fire, her debut short story collection. ‘Back When’ comes come her second collection, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, which has just been released, and added to my ever-increasing wishlist.
Enriquez is Argentinean, and her dark stories all feature female characters who are affected by their country’s past and present – poverty, drugs and alcohol, violence, the ghosts of the past (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally). While her characters go about their lives, these issues are shown in the background, sometimes threatening to break through into the foreground.
On one hand, the teenage characters in ‘Back Then’ are just like teenagers the world over – they want to hang out with their friends, do taboo things, have a good time – and they have to lie to their parents, and sneak about, in order to do this. On the other hand, their lives are full of danger – Nadia lives in the ‘slum’, where she hears gunshots every night; Pinocchia has to have a guard dog; all but one of the girls knows someone who has ‘disappeared’.
In ‘Back When’, the issue of ‘the disappeared’ is in the background, and the use of teenage characters is an effective way to explore it, because we see the country’s situation through innocent eyes, as illustrated when our protagonist tells us, ‘Julita’s folks had disappeared. They were disappeared. They’d been disappeared. We didn’t really know the right way to say it.’
In this story, a normal (for some!) teenage pursuit causes these girls to encounter the dead through a Ouija board, leading to terrible consequences: Pinocchia is almost ‘disappeared’, by a spirit, which is awful enough, but perhaps worse than that, Pinocchia is targeted because she’s ‘the one who bothered‘ the spirts. This arbitrary reason – to disappear a girl because she doesn’t know any of the disappeared herself – is truly terrifying, and that speaks volumes about the people who carry out these acts.
This story is a classic example of how Enriquez portrays her key themes. I’ve found her writing inspiring, and hope you do to.