A short protest story

The Intoxicated Years’, by Mariana Enriquez (trans. Megan McDowell)

Read it here in about 35 minutes.

In relation to the 2022 Winter Olympics, thinking about how we can use literature to protest…

Enriquez is from Argentina, and many of the short stories in her two English collections – Things We Lost in the Fire, and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed – are infused with the lingering repercussions of the country’s Dirty War (c. mid-1970s-80s). This story protests the country’s current political situation by showing the reality of these repercussions for teenage girls/young women.

I wrote about ‘Back When We Talked to the Dead’ here, in which a group of teenage girls tries to make contact with one of the ‘disappeared’ (the 30,000 civilians removed from their homes and murdered by the military due to their political opinions), using a Ouija board. In that story, the political situation remains in the background – something the girls don’t fully understand and can’t talk about – but a terrifying encounter with a spirit brings it, briefly, into their lives.

Similarly, in ‘The Intoxicated Years’ we see the political situation in the background – the story is divided into years, and each year links to real political events, so at the beginning we have citywide power cuts, mothers unable to pay rent, spiralling inflation – while in the foreground we have a group of three teenage girls who don’t understand, or care, about the political situation, and instead live for their own pleasure – recklessly diving around, drinking, using drugs – and, over time, descending into chaos.

These girls’ lives are full of danger. On one hand, they make dangerous choices, such as spending Saturday nights getting blackout drunk in Buenos Aires, and progressing from pot to cocaine and acid. On the other hand, dangers that are par for the course for young women living in poverty permeate their lives, and are subtly acknowledged: our narrator says Andrea’s father ‘was almost always drunk and she had a lock on her bedroom door so he couldn’t get in at night’; they are impressed by a girl on a bus who seems indestructible: ‘No one could ever hurt her, we were sure about that: if anyone was going to do harm, it was her’; a girl from their school apparently dies due to an illegal abortion…

The behaviour of their country’s leaders, and their parents’ struggles with money and employment, has filled these three girls with distain, lack of hope, and lack of ambition: ‘Useless adults, we thought, how useless’; ‘Our mothers seemed just as stupid and ridiculous as the power outages’; ‘hearing dollar dollar dollar filled them with happiness, my parents and all the other adults’. We see this in the girls’ aimless existence, and the way drink and drugs descend into hatred, then into violence.

The message seems to be: Argentina made these girls this way; no hope = no fear.

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