Let me begin by sharing the ways in which I tried to describe the feelings that came to my mind, as I read this collection of short stories. There were a lot of horrified oh-my-gods, and quite a few disgusted oh-my-gods; I thought they were compelling, some scary, some sobering, some that made me very very uncomfortable, and some that just confused me. But was it a powerhouse? Hell yes.
Argentine author Mariana Enriquez, who has been compared to Shirley Jackson and Jorge Luis Borge, brings to us a compelling collection of stories that suck you in and yet, at the same time, really repel you. Each of these stories is unconventional and is a horror-take on some issues, which, at the core, are often socio-political in nature. Perhaps ‘macabre’ is the right word to use for her works. According to Goodreads, the author’s stories are:
Populated by unruly teenagers, crooked witches, homeless ghosts, and hungry women, walk the uneasy line between urban realism and horror. The stories are as terrifying as they are socially conscious and press into being the unspoken — fetish, illness, the female body, the darkness of human history — with unsettling urgency. A woman is sexually obsessed with the human heart; a lost, rotting baby crawls out of a backyard and into a bedroom; a pair of teenage girls can’t let go of their idol; an entire neighborhood is cursed to death by a question of morality they fail to answer correctly.
Written against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, and with resounding tenderness towards those in pain, in fear, and in limbo, this new collection from one of Argentina’s most exciting writers finds Enriquez at her most sophisticated, and most chilling.
My Thoughts and Why You Need to Read It ASAP
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed was truly a book unlike any other. At first glance at the synopsis, one might think that the stories are gross and disgusting and that would be reason enough to rate it really low. But on the contrary, I have quite possibly never read anything like this. I loved it, yes, with all its weirdness, its fetishes, and all its horror. I read it and I loved it and I rated it 5 stars.
We both knew what the ending might be, and we didn’t care.
I went in knowing that I might have to face the dark at night. And that was indeed saying a lot because I am generally not a scaredy-cat. I can watch a ghost/demon/horror movie at 3 am when it’s pitch black and fear can come in the shape of a headless man standing in the corner of your room when it is just your jacket hung up on the hook. And so, to say that I was spooked might not be an understatement.
One of my top 5 favorite stories in this collection has to be Our Lady of the Quarry. It’s got the usual teenage drama, jealousy, and parties and boys. But it also has a gruesome revenge plot that I was taken aback by. But that is not all. I faced my own depravity when I felt my righteous anger at the two characters who, I ended up believing deserved what came for them. It was an unsettling end but what was more unsettling was my own reaction to it and how my dark side came out so easily. Perhaps, our dark sides are ultimately not that deeply embedded in us, and are just lurking around under the skin?
Perhaps, our dark sides are ultimately not that deeply embedded in us, and are just lurking around under the skin?
Some might say that Where Are You, Dear Heart? was the goriest of them all. Was it? Yes, most possibly. But Enriquez’s writing is a mirror and my disgust was mixed with a sense of curiosity which slowly began to turn into a sickening fetish to keep on reading the story.
Kids Who Came Back was another unsettling story, one that shook me to my core. I still don’t know what I exactly feel about it. What did it make me feel, I wonder? Thrill, as the story began with a mysterious vibe? Dread, as I knew the twist was just around the corner, as was classic of all the other stories? Satisfaction, when the horror finally began? (And at this I again questioned my depraved mind) Sadness, at the somehow befitting end? I still don’t know.
Back When We Talked To The Dead birthed an urge in me — to try and summon spirits using an Ouija board, despite the many warnings my Aunt, a spirit medium herself, has repeatedly given me. I was compelled, just as the girls in the story, but the ending with madness and horror was the final warning for me.
I have three memories of him, one of them may be false
What was it about this author’s power that pulled me in? That made me understand my boundaries more and made my depravities and my fetishes more recognizable? What made me deny my denial of this knowledge? Should I now create an altar and worship this goddess writer? Or would that make me weird enough to be clubbed together with these characters in the stories?
What was it about this writing, these stories, and the characters’ unreliability that made this such a mind-blowing read for me? Was it because I was forced to face the basic and the basest of human desires and capabilities? Was it because I was forced to face my own humanity (or its lack thereof)?
The Unavoidable Discourse and Disappointments
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed has some unavoidable socio-political and cultural themes that are underlying the horror and the grime but may perhaps be the core of it all. From stories of people being ‘taken away’, to people being ‘trapped’, it is full of such subtle jabs and hints of a cultural and political makeup of a people, of a country.
There were also a couple of stories that seemed a bit mild to me and therefore not very memorable. But that is to say, perhaps I have already been influenced, corrupted, and debauched enough to find them mild. It certainly is a dark ride, one that makes you question your own morality, your own humanity. Proceed with caution!
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is not an easy read. It is certainly not a comforting read either. But if you are one among those who revel in the macabre and the horror and the freakishness, this might be for you. If you want to expand your senses and dabble with that which is outside your box and makes you uncomfortable, this is for you. Go for it.
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