With delightful delicacies like novella Fever Dream and short story collection Mouthful of Birds Samanta Schweblin has become renowned for her sinister, strange, beguiling fiction. Her new set of short stories, Seven Empty Houses, sneaks dread like a cursed gift through its pages. In Megan McDowell’s translation from the original Spanish, Schweblin’s prose is pared to a fine edge. Haunted by a cast of resentful mothers, kids a-wandering, nudist in-laws and intrusive strangers, in these stories home is where the heart of the absurd is.
Situations which appear ordinary quickly become charged. Characters abandon niceties – romping nakedly on public lawns and roaming the city at night in only a damp bathrobe – searching for something or someone to break the spell of life’s drudgery. The longest, perhaps most impactful story of the collection, ‘Breath from the Depths’, is inhabited by Lola, an elderly woman who is packing her possessions into countless labelled boxes in preparation for her inevitable death. Schweblin movingly navigates the disorientation of living with dementia, and Lola’s attempts to rationalise a world as it unravels.
‘An Unlucky Man’, reflects on a childhood memory of adult failings, and deftly recognises that harm cannot always be so easily understood. The collection’s power is in its capacity to speak to the danger that is waiting, if you would only peer in through the keyhole.
Annie Hayter is a writer and poet
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