David Naimon: Today’s episode is brought to you by Miriam Darlington’s The Wise Hours, which Robert Macfarlane calls, “A beautiful book; wise and sharp-eared as its subject. In her quest to understand the elusive nature of owls, Darlington watches and listens to the natural world and to the rhythms of her home and family, inviting readers to discover the wonders of owls alongside her while rewilding our imagination with the mystery, fragility, and magnificence of all creatures.” “Darlington,” says Jonathan C. Slaght, “writes with intimacy and beauty.” Caspar Henderson calls The Wise Hours, “A delight.” The Wise Hours is out on February 7th from Tin House and available for pre-order now. I’ve been hoping for and anticipating this conversation with Mariana Enríquez for many years now. After Mariana won Spain’s Herralde Prize in 2019 for her latest novel, I was seeing so much intense, intriguing discussion, and enthusiasm for it in the Spanish-speaking world, that I reached out to her to see if she knew whether it would be translated into English, especially since we didn’t have a novel of hers in English yet. In the meantime, her story collections were coming in English and creating a similar enthusiasm, and these intense and substantive discussions about what she was doing with, and to the horror genre in an Argentinian context, how she was both extending and departing from Argentina’s own long tradition of fantastical literature, and how she was reshaping it, Mariana often being referred to as the Queen of Terror or the Queen of Latin American Gothic Horror. We checked in here and there over the last several years and I’m excited to say that the day has finally come. I guarantee you it is well worth the wait. We talked just before New Year’s, Enriquez having just returned from a long trip to Australia and just about to leave again for France to promote her work there. We connected during that island of time, Mariana in Buenos Aires, me in Portland. Shortly after, for the bonus audio archive, I had a long conversation with Mariana’s translator, Megan McDowell. This is the first time I’ve talked to a translator, for the second time, once about her translation of Alejandro Zambra’s Chilean Poet and now again for Mariana’s novel Our Share of Night. Really it could have been three times as she also translated Lina Meruane’s amazing book Seeing Red but I wasn’t yet then talking to translators when I talked with Lina. I confess that I thought this second conversation with Megan would be short and sweet, and I even said as much to Megan before we talked, because on that first conversation, we talk about her origin story as a translator, her moving to Chile and the advantages of that, her views on translation as an activist act among other things about her that we weren’t going to cover again in the second conversation, a conversation I imagined that would focus mainly on what attracts Megan to Mariana’s writing, what their collaboration is like, and what interesting challenges she was confronted with in bringing this specific work into English and we do talk about all of these things. But the conversation was really surprising to me and sometimes revelatory as I learned that Megan was translating both Zambra’s book Chilean Poet, and Mariana’s book at the same time during the pandemic. They begin our conversation with how little overlap I could see in these two writers of the same generation who both engaged with the dictatorships that shaped their childhoods but how little overlap I could see in their sensibilities and aesthetics. But Megan not only makes some interesting connections between these two books and two writers but it also becomes a fascinating discussion about the differences between Chilean and Argentinian literatures in relation to the fantastic and in relation to realism, the ways both of these writers, Zambra and Enríquez, are participating in and yet changing, and reshaping the literatures they come from, then some really fascinating things on the level of language, about written and spoken Spanish in both Chilean and Argentinian contexts. If you subscribe to the bonus audio, all the long-form conversations with translators are really great, but this one, much like the one with Hélène Cixous’s translator, Beverly Bie Brahic, particularly adds added texture and insight to the main conversation with Mariana. To learn how to subscribe to the bonus audio and the many other potential benefits and rewards of joining the Between the Covers Community as a listener-supporter, head over to patreon.com/betweenthecovers. Now, for today’s episode with Mariana Enríquez.
These stories are about to get unleashed. They’re about the wildness contained in all of us. “I think stories have some magical effect in the world. I think it’s really hard to live without stories and if somebody tells you this is the way you’re going to end up, you’re lucky if you can forget that.” “There’s me and then there’s writer guy me, and then there’s me working, which is the absence of me. It’s just a story.” “I had no idea how to write a novel. I didn’t know if it would ever come to fruition. I was working at a vet and lint-rolling puppy hair and cat dander off myself.” “They’re almost like really shy animals. They will come out of the woods but you have to stay very still and you have to pretend like you’re not interested in them.” “Artists tend to put their fingers in the wounds in the silences.” “I believe in the role of literature as a catalyst for dialogue and new forms of thinking.” “All the stuff I’m interested in is thrown into the washing machine that is my brain and it’s put on a spin.”
David Naimon: Good morning. Welcome to Between the Covers. I’m David Naimon, your host. Today’s guest is Argentinian novelist, short story writer, and journalist Mariana Enríquez. Enríquez holds a degree in Journalism and Social Communications from the National University of La Plata and has been deputy editor of the arts and culture section of the newspaper Página/12 who in the past have counted on their editorial staff, other well-known writers from Eduardo Galeano to Rodrigo Fresán and where Mariana has written about everything from the fantastical, and anti-capitalist work of China Miéville to the power of the imagination and the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, about the fallen dreams of Stephen King to the movie Get Out, to the work of Anne Carson. Most of Enríquez’s work has yet to be translated into English, including her two books of non-fiction, the 2014 Alguien Camina Sobre Tu Tumba: Mis Viajes a Cementerios which might be translated as Someone Walks On Your Grave: My Travels in Cemeteries of which Bernardo Esquinca says, “With a keen sense of humor, Mariana Enriquez unearths historical details, necessarily macabre, to reveal that cemeteries are much more than dust and bones: places charged with sensuality and mystery, like life itself.” As well as her 2018 non-fiction book La Hermana Menor: Un Retrato de Silvina Ocampo, The Younger Sister: A Portrait of Silvina Ocampo. Her two novelettes and first three novels also await translation, which I suspect, given the enthusiasm her work has received in the anglophone world, is likely to happen. Mariana’s second story collection Things We Lost in the Fire was the first of her books to arrive in English, translated by Megan McDowell, with stories from it appearing in Granta and The New Yorker, named The Best Book of the Year by The Boston Globe, Remezccla, and Words Without Borders. Helen Oyeyemi says of this collection, “These spookily clear-eyed, elementally intense stories are the business. I find myself no more able to defend myself from their advances than Enriquez’s funny, brutal, bruised characters are able to defend themselves from life as it’s lived.” Her second book in English was her first story collection The Dangers of Smoking in Bed also translated by Megan McDowell, a finalist for the Ray Bradbury Prize, the Kirkus Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. Of this collection, Kazuo Ishiguro said, “The beautiful, horrible world of Mariana Enriquez, as glimpsed in The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, with its disturbed adolescents, ghosts, decaying ghouls, the sad and angry homeless of modern Argentina, is the most exciting discovery I’ve made in fiction for some time.” It’s with great pleasure to have Mariana on the show today to discuss the arrival of her most recent novel, her fourth novel, the 2019 Nuestra Parte De Noche into English, her first novel to be translated yet again by Megan McDowell as Our Share of Night. Nuestra Parte De Noche won Spain’s Herralde Prize in 2019 whose previous winners include Javier Marías, Roberto Bolano, and Guadalupe Nettel. Publishers Weekly in its starred review calls it, “A masterpiece of literary horror.” Paul Tremblay calls it, “One of the best novels of the 21st Century.” Alan Moore, author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta says, “Our Share of Night . . . Artfully employing the vocabulary of supernatural horror as the one voice capable of articulating Argentina’s unspeakable history. With realism in its magic and magic in its realism, this is a magnificent accomplishment and a genuine work of power.” Finally, Kelly Link warns us, “Reader, beware! Our Share of Night is a novel so disquieting, so unsettling that I could neither put it down nor read it late at night. Mariana Enriquez’s short stories had already made me a fan for life—her novel is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.” Welcome to Between the Covers, Mariana Enríquez.
Mariana Enríquez: Well, thank you very much for having me.
DN: Well, before we talk about your novel, I wanted to talk about some elements of your writing more generally that I think distinguish you. You’ve expressed an interest in psychogeography, the intersection of psychology and geography, the ways geography affects the mind and affects behavior, and I suspect it’s more than that for you, that it’s also the way past behavior on the land can haunt it afterwards. For instance, you’ve talked about the morbid atmosphere of place in William Faulkner’s work, and Argentina has a long tradition of the fantastic, whether Cortazar, Ocampo, César Aira, or Borges but you’ve talked about how Argentinian fantastical writing has, historically speaking, not looked to its own traditions and myths but has looked elsewhere for its influences. You’ve mentioned Borges looking to Europe to Icelandic literature or Norse mythology. Last year, I had Argentinian American writer Hernan Diaz on the show, a writer whose own family story intersects with the setting of your book in the sense that his family were leftists, they fled the dictatorship at that time, and they went to Sweden where he spent much of his childhood before they eventually returned again to Argentina. The main protagonists in your book are Argentinians of Swedish descent. But the main reason I wanted to bring him up is that he wrote a book on Borges and half of that book was about how much Borges looked to North American literature for inspiration. He most notably looked to Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe, and your writing in contrast feels like its morbid atmosphere seeps up from the Earth where it takes place. Before we talk about how and why it does this, maybe we could start with your thoughts on the tradition that precedes you in relation to place. Why do you think the conversations it wanted to have is with literature, mythologies, and stories that originated elsewhere, that originated outside of Argentina?
ME: I think it’s because Argentinians of I would say middle class and upper class never really felt off the land, always felt as Europeans living here at the end of the world and they were always looking for the motherland in the north. The beliefs, the stories, and everything of the not-privileged people were not part of literature. It was a superstition, it was anthropology, it was whatever, tourism, I don’t know, colorful things but couldn’t enter the castle of literature. I say castle because castle is a very European image but also, they look to the literature in America. For example, Borges didn’t like Raymond Chandler and why he didn’t like Raymond Chandler, because Raymond Chandler was dirty, because Raymond Chandler talked about society, sex, dark things, and the underbelly overlay for example. He likes the really in a way clean stories of Conan Doyle, for example, and stuff like that. Of course, he liked poetry but he had some problems with everything that was down and dirty. He wasn’t really paying attention [inaudible] but I think that for example, he would really not like, I don’t know, Raymond Carver or writers like that because to him it was too near the everyday experience that he didn’t think that it was in the literature. But most of it is a class thing. Not even because he was so rich or everything. Class in the sense of your imagination, like where your mind is and your mind is there. Because other writers like Bioy Casares, for example, he was from an aristocratic family but César Aira is not, for example, he’s a bit more Argentinian. Though he uses a lot of humor, he used a lot of absurd kinds of things. I think that’s what it is, the idea of class ingrained even in people that are not of that class. I really like it but it’s a very elitist literature. It’s not only in Argentina. The whole of South America is like that. It’s a continent that is very divided that way.
DN: Well, in a 2018 interview with David Leo Rice, you talked about how you often set your stories in a specific place. You said in that interview, “In my stories I often use a river south of Buenos Aires, el Riachuelo, a polluted, ugly place that marks the border of city and suburbia and is also a symbol of corruption and greed because irresponsible industries contaminated it. Many of them are industries related to meat, and meat is a very Argentinian ‘thing.’ So the river is a metaphor but also a geographical border. And when I take that into literature, that border appears in the frontier between realism and the fantastic, that not-so-comfortable place where you recognize the setting and the words but reality dissolves into something sinister.” In that spirit, I was hoping you could talk to us about the setting of your novel in the northeastern part of Argentina near where the country meets with Paraguay and Brazil. I was hoping maybe you could paint for us the psychogeography of this region as you see it, what that part of Argentina is like, and also talk to us about the attraction of having your story emerge from this specific place.
ME: I chose it first because I spent a lot of years in my childhood and teenage years in the region. I say first because I really like the idea of psychogeography and I really like the idea of paying attention to our land, and the myths of our land, and the myths of our people but I don’t want to make it fictitious because that’s not in the tradition of literature as we were talking about. To use it as a ficticization, let’s say, is kind of opportunistic. I said, “Okay, I’m going to use this because this is what I want but let’s look for it in my own history, in my own past.” My mother and the family of my mother are from that region. That region is a region that is very sylvatic, it’s very, I wouldn’t say it’s jungle that is more going to Brazil, but it’s very voluptuous, the nature there and it’s very aggressive in a way, like you have the red soil let’s say, you have the waterfalls that are absolutely powerful, and you have the mix of beliefs and religions. The Catholicism in that region also, it was very specific what they did because that was a place where the Jesuitic missions came, so it was quite different what they did. They tried to do something different with the original people, so you can still see the ruins of their places and they were also taken out of the country. The Jesuits were persecuted in many ways and they left a lot of their particular way of seeing the world. Then the Pagan spiritual tradition, you have a bit of Guarani, it’s the local people that are from the region that are very mixed with the, we say criollos, the people that were born there and also the Afro-Brazilian religions, because it’s near Brazil, that are very different. You have to add to all these mixtures, that’s why I really wanted to make it there because of the mixture, all the immigration from Northern Europe, Czechs, Lithuanians, Swiss, Russians, whatever. It’s very strange. I remember going there as a child and you go to these little small towns in the middle of the jungle where sometimes they sell local stuff, local food, things like that and there comes this blonde woman that looks like a Valkyrie or something, [laughter] and yeah, it’s something like a Wagner. It’s like, “What’s going on?” That’s why in the novel, it could be, for some readers, weird that the protagonist is a big Swede but it’s not. There’s even a haunted Swedish cemetery in that area and it’s quite a big cemetery, the Swedish cemetery. For example, the sister of my grandmother was married to a German, all that part, like for people that are not seeing me, I’m small and pale but very brown-eyed, brown hair, well, now white hair, whatever but that part of my family are all very blonde and scary looking. [laughter] I wanted that mix and let’s say psychogeography or that mixed states to be inherently Pagan, inherently magical thinking, and inherently mysterious. I need to place also that to me I really like Southern Gothic. To me, when I go there, the descriptions of the writers of Southern Gothic really sound or I read them and it’s like, “Wow, it’s like this place.”
DN: This also reminds me of you talking about, at the time Borges was writing, his fascination was with the south of Argentina away from what he knew but also farther south. You’ve said that things have changed a lot since he wrote. In fact, one thing you said was, “The trip that can have a true sense of adventure and radical change in your life has to occur by going north, where our continent is, where Latin America is.” It makes me think that maybe, like that river, you sometimes cite your stories near, that this idea of a border, an encounter with others, with strangers, it’s a different impulse I think, I mean I think there’s an encounter with strangeness and otherness, and Borges going south but it’s very different impulse, it seems to me, to go north.
ME: Because he’s thinking about, probably Hernan knows a lot more about this than me, but what he’s thinking is about civilization. I don’t like to use the term barbarians because I don’t like it but the opposite of civilization. When he’s thinking about it and he’s thinking about the writings of the makers of Argentina as a country, and he’s reading them and he’s in a way admiring them because they are the ones that push the border, that push the frontier in a way like the west, let’s say, but of course, it was in the south where they killed and the extermination there of the original peoples was very efficient, let’s say, so Patagonia now is a place where it has a few descendants of the original people but most of the people are new immigrants, white new immigrants. It’s a very wild-looking land, it’s a very open space, and it looks adventurous but it’s not. It’s a place of richness. It has a lot of oil. It’s a place of tourism. It has a lot of people that go to the mountains, the desert, or whatever and it’s a place of new immigrants. In fact, my generation must be the first generation that is called born and raised. The north though is where the people get darker, is where things get more mixed and are more difficult to explain. It’s where people come to the city. For example, people from the north come from the city to work because it’s the poor part of Argentina, the south is not. That river that I mentioned sometimes, what cuts really is the city of Buenos Aires in half. I live now in the middle-class part of the city but I was born on the other side of the river. The other side of the river is suburbia but not suburbia as we understand it in Australia or America, it’s post-industrial hell. Smells bad. They rob you. It’s awful. Then comes the country, then comes Patagonia, so it’s like the barbarians are there around the city, circling the city. The north is really how Latin America looks like, darker, more in touch with their beliefs, poorer basically, and more vulnerable and more exposed in a way. Like nobody goes to the place where the novel appears to ski. It’s a beautiful place but it’s a very abandoned place in a way.
DN: It’s weird because it’s the only place in Argentina I’ve ever been to, is that part of Argentina and very briefly a long time ago, so I don’t have anything to compare it to in my own life. But in an event you did with Samanta Schweblin in Norway, you talk more about this region, about the mix of immigration, about the indigenous presence like you’ve said and that you had family there, and that when you were there as a child, there was a mansion along the river of people of Swedish descent and you always wondered as a kid what they were hiding from, what they did inside that house, why, as people with so much money, they would choose this place where it rains constantly to build a luxurious house that’s hidden from everyone and everything. I’m presuming this is the inspiration for the mansion in your book where the wealthy family lives that is part of this demonic cult. But another thing you said in this conversation with Samanta is that even though this region is part of your own family’s history and part of your own childhood, you didn’t want to go there for the novel, you didn’t want to see it anew or research it. You wanted it to be an active memory of returning to it only in your mind. I guess I wanted to hear more about that because I suspect as a journalist, that there might also be another temptation to go and get the details “correct” to refresh yourself about the sights, sounds, and smells, to feel it again, to take notes, to see the creepy mansion and what it looks like to you as an adult. Talk to us about why you wanted to preserve it in a certain way, then explore it from that place.
ME: I think first is because in my mind, journalism and literature are very different, and journalism needs this, with the mansion, all the investigation, being there but to me, literature is an act of creation that really to me should not have that much help of real things. To me, it’s more an act of imagination. This is not that I dismiss literature that is more based in facts or whatever. I think journalism is literature when it’s proposed in a certain way. But for me, because of how my mind works, all that investigation, recreation, and everything, I try to avoid going to the facts, going to the place again because also, I know as a journalist, that has no end. It has no end. In a different way, the imagination has no end or memory. Memory is confusing, imagination is confusing, data too. But I think imagination and not trying to rely so much on the facts gives you more truth. This is a very weird thing to say but memory is something very, very tricky. For example, when you try to interview people from the area, they will tell you a thousand different things. That could be very useful but I have my own memory with a thousand different things, so I don’t need that. I would need that if I wanted to do a story about the house and publish it in a magazine but this is different. Also, I noticed in the last decades, I think some need, not a real need but a generated need of literature to try to be very, let’s say transparent with reality. To me, it’s like, “Who cares?” I mean if this street has a different name or I got the name wrong or this thing happened in 1923 but really happened in 1924, it doesn’t matter. It’s nobody’s fiction. When I was reading, when I was growing up, I never read a book and tried to fact-check a book. Never. I just took it as whatever, “He has to be telling the truth because he is telling the truth.” He’s telling the truth of fiction and the truth of fiction is different from the truth of journalism that really doesn’t exist. It’s more like the most honest approach to facts that you can give the reader. I wanted just to rely first in my memory that you can really rely on but what was there? Also, we have some tools now that weren’t there when I started writing. You can have the internet. Like the mansion now, it’s a very luxurious hotel and the owner of the hotel is totally convinced I was there, [laughter] and he hasn’t even told people in the magazine that I was there visiting with some director for making a show or something and I never went there.
DN: I love that.
ME: Never. Never. Like I want to call him and say, “Give me two nights,” because it’s a spectacular place, I said, “Give me two nights, and I can be there because it was me.”
DN: Yeah. I hope you get to go.
DN: Well, you yourself have been influenced greatly by writers from England and from the United States: Clive Barker, Stephen King, David Lynch, Shirley Jackson, Stephen Graham Jones, China Miéville, many others, that you’ve taken some of what they’ve done in their own cultural contexts and transposed, and rooted these sensibilities within an Argentinian context. You’ve said this is largely because while Latin America has a rich and long-standing tradition of the fantastic, that there hasn’t been a lot of horror historically. In Latin America today, you even went so far as to say, “The thing is that the horror tradition in Spanish is very erratic. I would go so far as to say there is no tradition. Maybe gothic literature, but horror as a popular, well-defined genre is almost nonexistent.” I think two elements that point to a distinctiveness in your writing is the writing of an Argentinian fantastic rooted in the stories and traditions of Argentina itself but then also being part of what feels like a new wave of horror tradition or maybe a first wave of a horror tradition within Latin America, whether your writing or writers from Mexico, Ecuador, and others who are now entering the horror space. But I wondered if you had any thoughts about why the horror tradition has such a long-standing history in the anglophone world. It’s not because that world has more horror in real life. I wonder if it has something to do with the strain of Christianity from England and the US, Puritanism, if which so have informed our own relationships to the body to purity. But I’m curious what your thoughts are, like we have this long deep tradition of horror, I don’t know why we do but I would imagine you’ve thought about it some.
ME: I thought about it some. I thought about it why we don’t, like for example, in the region that we were talking about, there’s a very famous horror writer [inaudible] that is very influenced by Jack London and his stories are all about that region or are set in that region but none of them are supernatural. It’s like manual living there. “Why didn’t you talk to the people, why didn’t you ask about the stories?” Like there’s a story every step you take. It’s absolutely amazing. He didn’t do it. Why didn’t he do it? Probably because he was reading Jack London and he was influenced by Jack London but he said he loved Poe which is strange. But I think that yes, religion has a lot to do with it. Argentina, I wouldn’t say it’s a very Catholic country and you will see a lot of churches, they’re all empty. We have a pope but he’s more interested in politics than in God I think. We don’t even have things like in Spain with the Easter extravaganza that they have in the South and stuff like that. But it’s true that I went to a Catholic school because my mother had, for example, the idea, this was during the dictatorship, this is her thinking, I admit that my mother’s thinking can be a bit strange, she thought, “If I take her to a public school, to a state school, they’re going to put in her mind fascist thoughts but if I take her to a religious school, they’re going to put God’s thoughts on her and I can’t reprogram her better because God doesn’t exist anyway.” [laughter] She’s like, “You are a child and you’re exposed to this man bleeding on a cross that is naked and hot, and he was born of a woman and an angel, and you read the Bible.” Everything is absolutely crazy but there’s a voluptuousness. It’s an erotic religion. Even if it has the same repression in words, when you read about it, there’s a lot about the body. There are very essential things. The whole relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is very different. When I go for example to a country that has another tradition, they were friends and we’re like, “Okay, they were not friends.” There’s something about the churches, there’s something about the luxury, there’s something about something playful, and there’s something luxurious. The clothes, the richness is in a way absolute decadence of the whole thing visually speaking. If you go to a cemetery for example, I’m really interested in Italy for example, it’s like, “This is insane.” There are naked women dancing with this and the patriarch dying, human size with all the family around, and you go to a cemetery in America and they’re the identical graves, and stuff like that. There is a lot more repression I think. Also, the thing for example of the belief in ghosts, for giving just one reason of why the ghost story worked a lot in the English-speaking world and not so much for us. If you think the Protestant way of thinking about Christianity cannot allow to have ghosts because they can’t be the spirits of the dead, they can’t be because why would they come back if they are their demons? So this is much scary. But for us it’s different because they are the spirits of the dead. You have the dead in Mexico and it’s a different relationship. We are more scared of people doing bad stuff to us, as in supernatural bad stuff, these kinds of things but not that much of the uncanny but of the direct attack, like the psychic attack and things like that, like people doing what we call trabajos that is like witchery stuff. We have the brujas, the witches, it’s different. It’s a different mentality I think and it’s been forever like that. In the end, a tradition is made of so many things that go on top of each other that you can’t really tear it apart or attribute it only to one thing. But I do think that the voluptuousness, the decadence, and the relationship to the supernatural, the Catholicism, the way we interpret it in our cultures has a lot less room for uncanny and supernatural stuff because it’s already there.
DN: Well, I want to share something Megan McDowell, your translator, said in a lecture. The lecture was called Sense and Suspense: Translating Latin American Horror because I want to hear what you have to think about it. She talks about a philosophy of Stephen King where he says, “The finest aspiration is to terrorize the reader. If I can’t terrify the reader, I will try to horrify them. If I can’t horrify them, I’ll go for the gross-out,” and Megan disagrees with King insofar as she doesn’t think that one of these categories is better than another. She doesn’t believe in the hierarchy between terror, horror, and gross-out but she likes the categories and she goes on to compare and contrast your work with Samanta Schweblin who she also translates. First, she says that terror is something in our minds that we imagine and fear whereas horror is an actual response to something that has happened or is happening, and to be grossed out is something visceral, a repulsion or disgust. Megan says that Samanta’s work operates almost entirely in the world of terror, that she’s a master of suspense. She leads you through the dark with a flashlight, then lets the rest happen inside of your head. She resides in a place where consciousness meets the unconscious, the realm of dreams and of fears, and she holds us in this place of unresolved tension. Megan thinks that Samanta is working in the fantasy tradition of Borges, Cortázar, and Ocampo and that her settings, unlike yours, aren’t particularly Latin American. That she creates environments that are almost hermetic, separate, and removed, then talking about you, she says she thinks your work operates on all three levels. You punch us in the gut, you get us in the heart, and you gross us out. She talks about three of your stories, The Dirty Kid which she says is terror, Angelita Unearthed which is horror, and The Cart where a homeless man defecates on the street. But you don’t stop there. You keep us with the smell of it, the texture of it, the look of it. I think we can say that all three of these elements are very much in the novel that we’re discussing today. The first couple hundred pages feel like a blend of horror and gross-out but there’s a section in the middle that’s very literally like the way she describes Samanta’s work with kids inside a haunted house with a flashlight, and much of it is about the fear of what might happen whereas parts of the book are very much the horror of what actually is happening. But I was curious how Megan’s analysis strikes you, what you think of these Stephen King categories. Are they compelling to you? Is his philosophy of terror, horror, and gross-out something useful?
ME: Yeah, I agree with him. The thing is that I don’t think about it that much when I write and it’s not that clear to me when I write. I never stop writing thinking, “Okay, this is terror, this is horror, and this is suspense.” No. It’s very mixed up. I think that’s why Megan says I operate in the three levels which is the same as to say she works in the three levels at the same time because it’s really what I do. Samanta, I don’t think she does gross out that much but she does terror in a way. I remember her reading in a public reading, the draft of Fever Dream and I was actually scared, this was, I don’t know, five in the afternoon, summer in the sun, in a rooftop and there were people there, and I was scared, I was like, “Stop it, because I don’t like how I’m feeling.” It was like Mulholland Drive, like David Lynch atmosphere 100%. I can’t do that because when I started doing that, in a second comes politics, in a second comes violence, in a second comes what you would call gross-out that is not only the excrements but also physical violence, body horror that I love. I cannot operate in just one because it’s all to me more Baroque, the way I do it, maybe not in style but yes, in pieces of what I’m writing. But I guess the first part of the novel, I would say is mostly suspense and horror by gross because at the beginning, you don’t know, at the beginning you think it’s a guy and his child probably running away from something that is politically related. In a way it is but in a metaphorical way. It operates in the horror thing until the very Lovecraftian kind of thing. But the second part, I really thought about it as a Stephen King thing. To me, Stephen King is not influential, not just because of these theories they have but it was to me, the first horror writer that had a sense of place, a sense of politics, a sense of humane characters, a sense of language, there was an everyday language, that yeah, he wanted to scare me but first, he wanted me to believe and he wanted to tell me, “This is my country also.” I remember reading [inaudible] and there’s nothing like that in Argentina, there’s nothing like, I don’t know, it’s a bit of a scary book to me in the sense that there weren’t school shootings when he wrote on that level. To me, it’s a novel about school shootings basically, about school violence. There’s nothing like that here. I reread it recently and I was like, “Okay, he has an antenna and he knows what’s going on.” He knows what’s going on with the kids in his country. He knows what’s going on with guns in his country. He knows what’s going on with the fanatics and religion in his country. He knows what’s going on with poverty. The mother is a monster but she’s also a single mom. All these things, to me, that was what influenced me as a writer. I take a lot of writers from the US but to me, it’s always about what they are talking about, about their people, like Toni Morrison. I love Toni Morrison. I love Beloved. It’s one of my favorite books. I remember what did the trick to me in Beloved is when she’s talking about the subjectivity of this woman that’s been a slave her whole life and this woman doesn’t know if she can sing or if she likes music because every time she sang, and all the music that she heard was the music that the people that own her body and her mind, let’s say, made her sing and listen to. To me, I never thought about it that way. I only thought about the physical, the punishment, and the humiliation but I never thought about how they capture your subjectivity. That opened my mind and I said, “Oh, okay, she is talking about something that she knows. She’s talking about her people.” That’s why I like these writers more than the writers that Borges and that generation liked because they were less talking about their society I guess and they were more in a bubble. Or in a Puritan, like Borges loved Hawthorne, I love Hawthorne but it’s a very secluded thing. What I like is more of these messy things. I went a bit all over the place but I think it’s true what Megan says, I operate in the three levels.
DN: Well, your first several novels were realistic novels, they were greedy urban realism. But then you ultimately realize that horror is a better language to express the reality you were living in. First, moving into horror and the supernatural in your stories, then your novels. In your conversation again with Samanta in Norway, you said that horror is ultimately your literary language because horror was your reality as a child and you mentioned how, under the dictatorship, you would have to ask the police for a permit to have a birthday party, how people were disappearing, concentration camps being set up, mass graves, children kidnapped and given to other families, dissidents thrown from planes while they were still alive. Your parents are telling you not to speak of anything with friends or at school about any of the people your family knew who might be involved, who could be murdered as a consequence. I wondered if something else I guess was part of your childhood or part of your childhood atmosphere because recently, I watched the Argentinian film by Santiago Mitre, Argentina 1985, about the trials right after the dictatorship of the highest governmental officials which apparently was the first civil trial ever against a military dictatorship and one where no one would help the prosecutor because everyone feared for their lives if they did, so he had to assemble a team of really young people to assist him, people who had no trial experience and there were 709 testimonies involved in the trial that stood in for thousands of testimonies. But what seemed particularly remarkable was that it was all on television and one testimony central to the movie, and I imagine it’s probably by extension central to the imagination of Argentinians if this was on TV, but central to the movie was the testimony of a physicist Adriana Calvo de Laborde who had been imprisoned when she was six and a half months pregnant, and when she went into labor, they blindfold her with their hands tied behind her back and put her in the backseat of a car, and they wouldn’t unblindfold her or release her hands as she gave birth, sitting in the back seat next to another woman who was a collaborator with the police. Somehow, she’s able to get her underwear moved to the side without her hands, give birth to a baby who lay on the floor between her feet, the cord still attached. All of this she’s testifying about on television. When they get to where they’re going, the doctor, and I’ll just say as an aside, complicit doctors is a big part of your book, the doctors who are involved in a lot of the horror or assisting the horror, this doctor eventually cuts the cord and makes this woman clean the floor, and her stretcher naked while her baby covered in meconium is crying and while men are watching her and insulting her before she can hold her baby for the first time. I can go on and on about this, the 13 days without medicine, that she only was fed once every three days, that she had no clothes for a lot of this time. But in the movie, one of the young people assisting the prosecutor was from a very pro-military family who hated him for supporting this trial, for participating on the side of the prosecution. When they heard this testimony of this woman, his mother changes her mind and supports her son’s activity. But I guess I wondered if this too, were you shielded from this as a child? Or was this something where you would be sitting in front of the television watching or hearing about testimonies just like this? Then my second question would be, to return to this question of horror, are these stories horrific without any supernatural activity? You could have written horrific events in a realistic setting and it would be horrific on its own and hard to read, and I wondered what about the supernatural aspect of horror makes it attractive as another way into writing about this time period in Argentina with the dictatorship versus writing it like your urban greedy realistic novels that you started out with.
ME: No, I wasn’t shielded at all. On the contrary, I saw the movie, I don’t remember that testimony. I remember it from a book because there was also a book that’s called Nunca Más, that’s Never Again. They let me read it. All the testimonies were there. I always say that’s my first real horror book and it was. It’s mostly the testimonies, then where the concentration camps were. It’s a very legal language and to me very technical, and very similar to medicine. That’s the point. My mother is a doctor too. But also in all these things, there are always doctors not only with the women that were giving birth but with the people that were being tortured because they didn’t want them to die. They want to keep them alive so they can still speak. Obviously, I thought about it maybe two years after writing the novel but in the novel, there’s the medium Juan that has to speak and has to be kept alive, and in a way, he’s tortured and there’s this doctor that keeps him alive probably against his will also at some point. Of course, he wants to live but I’m not sure that he wants to live like that. He’s a very dark character because of that. He has a death wish and he’s near death too. But this idea of the doctor trying to keep you alive, not curing you, it’s not a positive doctor but like a doctor of death kind of thing, it was all over that period. Also, I had the language because my mother is a doctor so I had the books and I was obsessed with it. But I don’t remember that testimony in particular. But I do remember on the radio, my father used to come back at night and part of the trial was on the radio. I remember a testimonial of a man that was saying that the torture was like they were picking the, how do you say the part of the foot where you used to step, like the back?
DN: The heel?
ME: Yeah. They started to peel it. I remember clearly, my father looking at me, I was 10 maybe, something like that, 11, my father looking at me and saying, “You see? You see how mean they were?” There was no concept for any child, of shielding us from this because this was everyday life, I mean I don’t think it’s possible to shield. You were going to know anyway. Also, you’re going to know because in school for example, the rumor in school, we would get together, like three or four girls, this is a vision that appears a lot in many of my stories, three or four girls talking, “Blah-blah-blah,” and secretly thinking, “Okay, do you think that girl is the child of her parents or was she robbed? She’s really from a family of militants, of activists and she’s with a military family now?” There was this uncanny thing, almost the Freudian definition of sinister is this person is familiar but it’s not what she thinks she is and what we think she is. She’s like a strange form of life between us. Of course, I could describe all of these things in a realistic way and they would be horrific but there are two things. First, there’s a lot of it to a point where if you live here, you’re numb to it. I listen to you telling the story of this woman giving birth like that and one part of my brain recognizes it as horrific, and one part of my brain recognizes it as, “Okay, we see another one of the women that gave birth in this situation,” like it’s absolutely normalized in a way. I didn’t want to join the many, many narratives of the dictatorship that are very realistic and reproduce this but I wanted to have my voice, like I live through it as a child which is not the same as being a direct victim, which is not the same as being an activist and of course, it’s not the same as being someone that suffered it in their body physically through torture of being captive but live through it when you’re traumatized too. But what is my language to talk about it? My language is not realism. I wasn’t there in a realistic way. I was there in my imagination. My imagination in those days was full of reading fantastic, fiction, dark fiction, and horror, so it became my language to talk about this. There are also the children of the disappeared that are about my age, a bit older maybe or younger, some of my age, late 40s. Some use humor, some use very Beckettian kind of absurd because there’s something very absurd about it too but very few use realism because there’s something about the experience when you go through it as a child that is not entirely real, that has an oneiric aspect to it, the secrecy, the not knowing what’s going on, the playful thing. Also, this is the 80s, so you have the slasher movies and this, and it’s all a mix. You have [Freddy] and Videla. When you’re seven, it’s not that different.
ME: There wasn’t some decision as to talk about it and write about it in a way that wasn’t the usual numbness kind of atmosphere of talking about these horrific things once, twice, three times, and four times. It’s always the same and you don’t want to hear it anymore. But if I think about it in horror terms, a ghost in Spanish is apareció, that is the opposite of desaparecer, of disappear. Even in the language, there’s something going on. Also, the secrecy of the dictatorship helped a lot with the sinister and the Freudian sinister, like the house next door could be a concentration camp because in fact, it was sometimes. They used places like that. My first two novels really are very influenced by, this is weird but I really like the writers of the AIDS era, I don’t know, Kathy Acker, Bret Easton Ellis, Dennis Cooper. That was huge for me. The body also comes again, disease. My first novel is about a gay love story with a bit of Hellraiser but nobody thought about it and nobody saw the Hellraiser reference, and the Clive Barker reference, and the gay, to me, it’s a very queer novel. The second bit too is very influenced by Dennis Cooper. It’s a boy that is abused by his father and tries to run away from home. They are realistic but they’re horrifying in a way. To me, it wasn’t enough. But also I still didn’t have very clear language of horror that I have to use to talk about certain things. I was playing around. My first novel came when I was 21 and the second came 10 years later while I was trying to make a living. I think I started to write horror when I understood this, that I just told you, it was the language that I had to use as my own language to escape from the realistic sameness that comes to every horrifying thing that has the sameness. It even happens to me with other horrifying things. Let’s say Vietnam narratives, I think it’s all the same, it’s very similar. You need a shock again. I’m not scared that this is the genre I chose and the genre I chose is shocking. Its purpose is to shake you up, to wake you up, is to say, “Hello, let’s go back to the horror, okay? This is not an everyday thing.” I think horror in that way is very moral, let’s say. It’s trying not to normalize things but to tell you in your face like, “Look how horrific this is, and give back the horrific essence of what happened.”
DN: In the spirit of that, could you introduce us to The Order, the cult of black magic and unspeakable violence that is central to the book? Who are these people, what do they believe, and what are they hoping for, if you were to introduce us to this global network that we’re intersecting with here in Argentina?
ME: Of course, they are awfully rich and they are not necessarily related to politics but in a way they are. They are related to power in general, so whatever the politics are, they are near them. They are transnational, let’s say. In my novel in particular, they are British and Argentinian. There’s a strong link, especially in the first decades of the 20th century, between Britain and Argentina, like Britain made the trains for example, then we were there commercially. We were like a colony, not officially let’s say and easily. They didn’t have to send officers. We did the job. But I thought about it this way: if you have everything, if you have all the riches, if you have all the contacts, if you can live the better life, if you live in what I call in a way the country of the rich, it’s the same everywhere. You go to the poorest country in the world and if you go to the elite that is rich and they live exactly the same as the rich in another place. But if you have that, what would you want to make it last forever? You would want it to live forever. But you would want to live forever not in the silly Reincarnation, I hate the Reincarnation theories, it’s like I don’t want to be a dog. I want to have my mind in this body or in another body. Well, it’s basically ceremonial and chaos magic, what they practice, I based it in Golden Dawn, by MacGregor Mathers and Aleister Crowley, etc and they are looking for a god that could grant them this and this god is an amorphous god. It doesn’t have a shape. It’s darkness and it’s a darkness that is very confusing. They hear it speak, they try to write down what it says but there’s not a complete agreement. It’s in a way like the Bible, there are many conflicting stories there going on and it appears as darkness when it’s summoned by the medium and it eats it basically. It’s a big mouth and it’s very voracious. They want more and more and more and their god is like them.
DN: When you were in conversation with Lina Meruane who’s also been on the show, you talked about how rich people are like a country to themselves like you’ve just mentioned. In a way, it feels like this order and its cosmology is self-contained and hermetic in many ways in a bubble but it’s also got this vampiric predatory or parasitic relationship with everyone else. We know things on the margins, this isn’t really central to the book, we get these details in passing. We know that they’re landowners that during Perón, they were worried that their land would get expropriated, and because of this, they marginally improved the working conditions but marginally is the operating word because they’re still whipping laborers, they only provide minimal food rations, and they use child labor. We get this maybe in one sentence as we’re reading along but they don’t just treat other people simply as bodies to benefit their own lives. They literally use the bodies of others ritually in horrific ways to benefit their bodies. They keep these children locked up often, either people who are poor and forgotten or detained people that they’ve received from friends in the military of the dictatorship. But the dictatorship and politics are at the margins of their own minds and of their point of view. They do justify themselves when they say, “Well, these people would be dying anyways.” But I’m not sure that’s really that important to them to justify themselves because there’s one quote by one of the women Mercedes who’s very high in The Order and she says or she’s described this way, “She considered amorality to be a mark of class. The further she got from moral convention, she thought the more apparent her inborn superiority became.” But I guess I’m saying all this because I think this harvesting of living bodies to try to extend the life of their own bodies doesn’t feel very far from what the rich do in the normal world, that there’s a very strong parallel. Or at least it invites an allegorical reading the ways in which people in the world are treated only as bodies and those bodies are used to extend the lives of other bodies. I wondered what your relationship to allegory was. Do you invite this reading for me to make this connection? Not a connection necessarily that The Order is making themselves but as a reader, is allegory part of what you consider yourself doing with this somewhat or very vampiric cult of the rich?
ME: In some ways, yeah. But in other ways, it’s very realistic. For example, the conditions of the workers today are like that. Today every month, police calls are there and they release people that are working in these fields as slaves and they still have child labor and they hardly pay. They give food and a house maybe but not much more. I think that is important. Most of the time, they help local politicians to get these people to go and vote for them. These people sometimes are illiterate. That is in passing because that is something that happens in real life and to them, to the mentality of The Order, this is the status quo, this is the order of things. This is what the bodies of the vulnerable and the people that are not like them are to be used for like it’s nothing. Of course, there is the allegorical reading. In a way, I wanted to treat it with these details in the margins a bit like a journalist would with little details of color because these little details of color sometimes is data. Sometimes it’s the truth of what’s going on. Even them not getting caught is real. If you think like the big rich gangster families or organizations in Latin America, they are never caught or hardly. There’s a sense of impunity they have. Of course, in the case of Mercedes and many of the high members of The Order, there is this idea of the aristocracy of evil. They are princes of hell and being this aristocracy of evil, they can have the weakness of the bourgeois, the weakness of morals, the weakness of doing good or doing bad. She just justifies herself in the sense of being very casual about it. It was like, “Okay, they were going to be killed anyway so bring me more.” It’s more in that sense that she says it, in a sense of trying to say, “Oh, no, I’m killing people that are innocent.” She doesn’t care. She just needs them to feed her god. In a way, that’s what the rich are doing. They’re feeding their god. Not only money, it’s a way of living.
DN: Well, in some interviews, you mentioned readers who’ve said to you that what you write is too much, goes too far, is intolerable to read, or unendurable, and you answer by saying that it isn’t more intolerable than the things that are happening in their own lives that they choose to ignore or choose not to see every day. I wanted to share my experience as a reader of the book and which parts were harder to read and my theories on why. But first I wanted to give an example from the book of the horror. I’m going to choose one that’s not really a spoiler. It’s from a book that Gaspar, the main child in the book, and his friends come across, a book of Chilean and Argentinian legends and myths. It’s about a cult that meets deep in a forest in a secret underground cave. To join the cult, you have to kill your best friend, skin them, and make a vest out of their skin that shines white in the moonlight in the darkness. The cave is guarded by an imbunche which is a kidnapped baby. It’s interesting that a lot of the myths end up with these stolen children, which obviously connects us to the dictatorship. But the cave is guarded by an imbunche, which is a kidnapped baby, kidnapped by the witches or the warlocks who slowly over time, step by step twist its head so that it’s looking back down its own spine and whose limbs are all twisted and the baby’s back is opened up so that when they break one of its legs, they can place the foot inside of its own back and sew it back up so that the foot is inside of itself. The imbunche then walks on two hands and one leg. I look this up, like I did a lot of the folklore and it’s real. In fact, one of the last or maybe the last witch trial in the world in the late 19th century happened on this Southern Chilean Island where the male witches testified to all of this. They talk about a magic cream that they would put on the imbunche to make it hairy. They would fork its tongue at three months old, sharpen its teeth, and then during its early months, it would only be fed black cat’s milk and goat flesh. Then later, when it was old enough, corpses from the cemetery. This is all amazingly bone-chilling. It’s similar in I think grotesqueness to the rituals that you invent in The Order. I just wanted to read that. It’s a very minor part of the book in terms of focus. But the parts of the book that were most hard for me to read had to do with point of view. When we’re inside of the mind of people who are deeply complicit in perpetuating horror, which we are for a significant section of the book, we’re deep inside of a cosmology, maybe this relates to when you talk about Beloved and the stealing of subjectivity. When we’re with the kids or later when we’re with the journalist, I can be disgusted and scared but somehow I’m still able to breathe. But when I’m inside the minds of the people who belong to The Order, who don’t try to free the locked up deformed children or put them out of their misery, that’s when it’s really hard because I wonder if my subjectivity has been stolen. I don’t know where to put my foot on the ground because the only place I can place it is a place that’s participating in the horror itself. I guess I was curious about the desire to tell the darkness from the point of view of the darkness at certain points. Because you do shift points of view. We get different angles into this world. Talk to us about this notion of point of view and sometimes telling the story from inside.
ME: Yeah. To me weirdly, one of the parts that I most enjoyed writing is the point of view of the doctor. That is probably the more pornographic and more disturbing, but it’s very short, you can’t really keep that for a long time but that is really inside of the mind because I wanted to show the readers and me too how do they think, how they think, what is the body of this boy to him, it’s something very functional, very erotic, very disposable. He’s a bigot. He despises poor people. He’s fascinated by death in a way that fascism is fascinated by death. I was thinking about for example in Spain, the Viva la Muerte, the militaries with Franco would say, “Viva la muerte,” that is like a Long Live Death, it’s like very, very, well I don’t know, this is too horror. I wanted in that novel in particular for the narrators to be from inside the darkness and from inside the mind of these people because I think there are many points of view. Only give the reader and myself too. The safe points of view is not honest because this is a dark cosmology, this is a novel that deals with evil. So if I’m not going to deal with evil from the inside, not just describing it or not just telling what it does to the supposedly good people, because nobody is totally good in the novel, everybody is very duo and I wanted that too, but once I managed to get inside their minds, especially the idea they have of love, for them love is something that in this cosmology, in this world, it is a waste. You have to give up your children. You have to give up your emotion. You can have anything that reflects you to other human being because that is a burden. Love is a burden. Love is stupid in this world. To have them have this kind of mentality and have this kind of philosophy to me, it was very dishonest to not go to the mind of them and to understand that maybe it was difficult for them, like for Florence, it’s difficult to give up her boy but she does. She does because it’s her duty as a wizard and her duty as a person of this class, the aristocracy of evil as I said. Love is not something that can be passion but not real love. Once I got in that mentality, it was like role-playing, it was very fun for me to do it. Funny I said. I had a lot of laughs too. But yeah, it was kind of a role-playing and it was trying to be honest because I get really upset sometimes when a narrative is all the time trying to be in the safe side, being careful, and trying to say, “Okay, I’m the writer. Okay, but I’m a nice person really.” That really disturbs me. To me, it’s a step back. I remember when I was really young, I read Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates and I was like, “What is this? Wow!” I was fascinated. But not only by the book but of the courage of this woman as a woman inside the mind of a man and inside of the man who was a serial killer. She does it with such glee. It’s such a ride, she’s having so much fun doing this. This is fiction. We are free here and we are free to explore. If you’re going to dismiss in fiction because we’re too scared of being the bad people in the movie, if we’re going to dismiss the bad thoughts, I think that’s a problem, that’s a really huge problem because I’m really interested in how evil, if you want to call it evil, I’m really interested in how evil functions. I want to know. I don’t want to be protected from it. I wasn’t protected from it. That’s one thing. I see how it’s unleashed and I see what it does. I’m not scared of it. I’m more scared of the silence around it.
DN: I think maybe you’ve answered my next question but I’m going to ask it in case that’s not true. When I talked to Fernanda Melchor for the show, we talked about how she felt like there was something almost carnivalesque about the violence in Mexico, the way the dismemberments and beheadings were happening in her region on the Gulf Coast. We talked about a Gulf Coast cartel Los Zetas who would barbecue their victims or scalp them alive and then make these phone videos of these human spit roasts called Mexigore. I brought up the New York Times Review by Julian Lucas of her book Hurricane Season where he compares Hurricane Season to both Flannery O’Connor and Marlon James. The critic brings up a philosophy of Marlon James. I brought the philosophy up with James himself when he was on the show but I also brought it up with Melchor, the idea that sometimes one needs to risk pornography in the portrayal of violence. The New York Times critic thinks Melchor risks it when he says, “At times, she enters so deeply into the psyche of sexual violence that she skirts the voyeurism risked by any representation of cruelty. In his posthumously published novel ‘2666,’ Roberto Bolaño deployed a device of alienating repetition to narrate the murders of women in Mexico, clinically detailing so many cases that they begin to lose their tabloid charge. By contrast, ‘Hurricane Season’ is saturated with the language of abuse: men ecstatically molesting their daughters; boys boasting about how exactly they’ll rape a friend.” “By design, Melchor offers little vantage beyond this world of predators.” “The crime is not an act but an entire atmosphere, which Melchor captures in language as though distilling venom.” I brought this up with Fernanda because on the one hand, I feel like her impulse to write the book was to critique femicides and gendered violence. But within the book, there’s no overt voice of critique, there’s no distance from the violence. We disappear into the violence. I guess it feels similar to me for sections of your book when we’re inside The Order and inside the mind of The Order. I know that you’re against The Order but I also feel like in the book, sometimes I’m in an amoral space. I think that you’ve already spoken to this but does this provoke any more thoughts for you about it?
ME: I think The Order has a point. I don’t agree with them but I think they have a point. I think if I were in their place and if I was raised in that, that’s why I put the character like Rosario that is more or less not my contemporary but more or less, maybe I would try to make it more, I don’t know, more with the times let’s say. But I would like to live forever and step on the heads of people too. Not me, Mariana, the writer or the person. But when I’m talking about this very dense, and this is similar to Hurricane Season, I think she’s much better than me but anyway, there’s a density to the violence and to what is done with the bodies and to the glee or to indifference done with the bodies. That has to come from a point of view of understanding that this violence has a point. Of course, Fernanda doesn’t agree with the violence of the cartels but she understands why they’re doing it. She understands why there are people moving from the military to the cartels. She understands why there are young people going to be in Sicarius or to sell drugs other than to work in McDonald’s. She understands the mechanisms of this. I wouldn’t have done The Order the way I did it if I didn’t do before the biography of Silvina Ocampo. Silvina Ocampo was the wife of Bioy Casares and the best friend of Borges. She was from a very, very rich family, an aristocratic family. I had to go to her houses, interview her friends, and there was a sense of superiority from them that sometimes even when I went into their mansions and into their houses, I thought, “Okay, if I disappear here, nobody will come after these people. My family would look for me in the streets and making demonstrations and stuff but these people will be like, ‘We will never touch her.’” [laughter]
DN: I wish people could see your expression that you just made. [laughter]
ME: And I completely felt like that in the smallest details. For example, I remember interviewing this beautiful woman that had a very big black piano in her house. This is in the morning. She lived next to the Vatican Embassy. We’ll never forget. The service was out for some reason. I don’t know if she couldn’t pay them that day or if it was a holiday, I can’t remember. But she didn’t have anybody and she didn’t know how to make a tea, a coffee, or anything. There was one woman from the service but she was a cleaner I think and she made a coffee just for her, not for me because I was nada, nothing to her.
ME: In that single thing, that single detail, that absolutely beautiful house next to the Vatican Embassy that was obviously complicit with a dictatorship and everything, I felt their power and my complete vulnerability to them. In interviewing them and talking to them, I understood where they were coming from. They’re owners. They were always owners. They were owners of land. They were owners of the country. They were owners of people. They were owners of palaces. It’s old money that is gone but they were that and they keep that kind of superiority to you that is very, very, very obvious and you feel it and you feel like a cockroach. That was something that I really wanted to explore. How does it feel to be in that kind of spirit? I thought about The Order before us kind of more in the fringes kind of thing, maybe even Bohemians or alternative, that kind of space, like alternative religions, spiritualities, and things like that. When I met these people, I said, “No, these are the people that are the sect.” In Fernanda, for example, I find another influence from the US that to me is very clear that is Blood Meridian. There is the constant relentless use of language as violence. The language is violent in all the book and in all the Hurricane Season. It’s relentless. With the change of point of view, I decided not to do that. I decided to let you breathe. Hurricane Season doesn’t let you breathe and Blood Meridian doesn’t let you breathe.
DN: They’re shorter though. I’m glad you let us breathe. [laughs] In the middle of your book I was like, “Thank you, Mariana.” [laughter] Well, you’ve talked about how politics and horror are usually found together, that the horror genre is political by nature. It reminds me of your conversation with Stephen Graham Jones where he said that slasher narratives are worlds of fairness. They are harsh worlds where justice is delivered and we particularly crave these slasher stories when we live in a world that doesn’t seem fair. Recently when I revisited some horror films from my childhood like Poltergeist, which I hadn’t seen in 30 years, as an adult, you really see how political the film is. It starts with the national anthem and then you see the father reading a book on Ronald Reagan and it’s this upper-middle-class family living in these ever-expanding generic wealthy suburbs, which are haunted because the development companies are quietly building them over cemeteries to save money from greed. So they’re moving the headstones but they’re not actually moving the bodies and they’re lying to everybody. That was also true when I watched Dead Zone. It’s extremely political. When I think of the horror genre historically, in the past at least, it seems unusually dominated by men, both on the screen and in books. But when I think of the horror genre now, I think of Kelly Link, I think of Helen Oyeyemi. But in Latin American horror in particular, I think mostly of women: Samanta Schweblin, Monica O’Hara, Fernanda Melchor, even Cristina Rivera Garza who’s mostly engaging with it now in her non-fiction. You yourself have written about how your transition from writing realistic fiction to fantastical fiction coincides with your own learning how to write female characters; that your first supernatural story and your first female protagonists happened at the same time. I guess I was hoping maybe you could speak both about your own journey around that but also any thoughts that you have about what seems like a very robust Latin American generation of horror written by women.
ME: Well, my own experience was that I wanted to write women. At one point, I decided, “Wow, I want to write women,” and I sat and tried to write a woman and it was awful. It was not a character. It was just me speaking like me. There was no death. I thought that because I identified myself as a woman, that was it. I didn’t have to create a literary voice for a woman. Then I understood that I had to. I had to look back, not to female authors because that’s one thing, but to female narrators. It doesn’t matter if they were written by a man or a woman. I didn’t care about that. But how is the voice of a woman in literature? Of course, what happens and what happens is that you read Patricia Highsmith and the narrators are men in most of the stories and with Iris Murdoch, that happens. In Latin American literature though, it’s different. You have Clarice Lispector and Clarice Lispector, they’re mostly women. You have Silvina Ocampo and they’re mostly women. There is a huge part of literature that was very, very, very popular in the 70s and 80s here that I think it became associated with a dictatorship that is kind of silly. But they were bestseller women that were selling like 80,000 books or 100,000 books and things like that and they all had female narrators and this was the popular literature of the time, the ones that were sold at supermarkets and stuff like that. There were four of them. That’s something. This Elena Garro in Mexico. There are less women writers maybe than in other places but they all wrote as women. Even Bernardo Esquinca recently and many others brought back to light a horror writer from Mexico. Amparo Dávila is amazing. She only wrote short stories and all the short stories are with women narrators of 80%, 90% of them and all of them are about the female body and the female fears. I started looking to female narrators. I found a lot of female authors and narrators in Latin America and then when I went back, I found many women in the gothic and the ghost story. From Mary Shelley to all the women that wrote with Edith Wharton. There are many. I think the ghost, the superstition, the house, the intimacy, the horrors that they couldn’t express, the fear of not having a house, the fear of your children taken from you, the fear of dying at birth, all those things are in the gothic that they were writing. That has a very tenuous but still visible line to Shirley Jackson. Somehow it dropped in Latin America to these stories like Amparo Dávila writes a story about the woman that has an abortion and then she has a tomato plantation in her house and the tomatoes started running after her like this is insane. But at the time, nobody thought that this was completely insane but people didn’t know how to read it so she was ignored and that’s it. I think in Latin America, what happens is that the weird and the uncanny, this was always the territory of the literature for women because it was not the canon literature. It was like do what you want. So the women, if they were upper-class women, they were listening to what the women in the service would say. That’s a very good example in Silvina Ocampo, she reproduces these voices and these kinds of beliefs sometimes, or the complete otherness that appears in Clarice Lispector that she’s not only a woman that writes very strange literature but she’s an immigrant from Russia in Brazil that is not that common. I think in a way, it’s a tradition and it’s also generational. As the boys, we watch Twin Peaks, we watch A Nightmare on Elm Street that is much more of a female horror movie than a male horror movie. There’s the constant menace of rape from Freddy. I remember the scene when she’s in the bath and the hand comes between her legs. This is impossible to do anymore in the movie now I think. That really scared me. I was in the cinema. I was really young. I was I think 13 or 14 and I ran away from home or something to watch it. This is the early 90s, late 80s, you could do anything. It was better. I remember watching that in the corner, I was totally scared because I was totally scared that could happen to me. We all read Stephen King, the girls and the boys, we all watched the Twin Peaks that, of course, starts with the murder of a girl. It’s a dead girl. There’s something that is intrinsically, and of course, all the scream queens horror is very female. I think feminism and the forth that feminism has in Latin America that is very new, imagine we have abortion in Argentina since two years ago only for example. Chile doesn’t have it. Brazil doesn’t have it. All this and the conscience of women about these issues and stuff mixed with the portrait of our fears in this genre is what somehow I think made some synergy that has to do with a generational thing of all these women that we were born to feminism at the same time that we were born to massive horror fiction. Massive I mean in very popular horror fiction and that horror fiction that is very, very intrinsically female in the victims, in the kinds of spaces that it happens, the houses, the kind of menace, the being followed, these kinds of things. I remember one of the latest ones I really like It Follows, for example, that’s an absolutely female film. The stigma that follows you, don’t be joyful in sex, I don’t know. There is something about that that I think made the crash.
DN: Let me ask you a question about the joyfulness of sex in relationship to queerness in your book. Like Fernanda’s book where the gender of the witch in Hurricane Season becomes less clear the more you read. That book is swimming in a culture of homophobia and transphobia. Queerness is a big part of your book. Most of the sex in it is between men. The Order aspires toward both what they consider a magical androgynousness and a bisexuality. As you’ve already mentioned, you wrote a queer relationship 25 years ago and I’m thinking about, as you’ve already alluded to, how much has changed in those 25 years in Argentina. Abortion 25 years ago was illegal. Same-sex marriage was illegal. They’re both now legal. Argentina, the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. Argentina has a gender identity law protecting trans people’s right to be recognized by their stated gender. I wonder if the toxic relationship in your first novel, and by contrast, the sex in the latest novel, I wonder if that somehow is related to this shift in the culture also because we talked about breathing in the book and there are points in the book where you allow us to breathe when we’re not in The Order. But the only time when we can breathe when we’re in The Order is when the men are having sex. That’s a moment of joy. I don’t think it is in your first book. But in this book, it’s a moment that’s not about death and fear. It’s like a moment that is really about love. Or maybe not love, desire let’s say, and connection and touch. There’s no body horror really in the sex scenes. I’m curious about that, if thinking about this quarter century time between these two queer novels, if you had any thoughts.
ME: No, I think it has a lot to do with that, maybe not with my experience in particular because my experience of sex being a teenager, the age that the young people in The Order I was terrifying, it was eight, it was if I get pregnant, how I get an abortion. Obviously, we were having sex like crazy because we were teenagers but it was the fear of death and the threat all the time mixed that’s why we go back to Freddy and all that kind of things. It felt really close. But now, I myself even when I can’t really use these things with my body because I never wanted children anyway but even if I want, I can’t physically have it anymore and things like that, but the atmosphere is completely different. I’m not scared anymore of going in the street with a couple of friends of mine that are holding hands in case they throw something in their heads because that doesn’t happen anymore. If it happens, that person that does, it is a crazy person that is going to be attacked. I wanted to put that in the book, the sense of freedom and the sense of joy, and also the sense of as a writer, I think the writer, in order to be with all these points of view, has to have a bit of androgyny because he has to understand desire. To me, desire is the opposite of death, not love because of one thing is what keeps you alive. I wanted to reflect that a lot. In the first novel, it was all dark, and in this one, there is a lot of dark but those are moments of pleasure. Also, the bodies that are bodies in the novel are so punished and suffer so much that I really wanted those bodies to have that recognition between each other, that moment of physically being in a place of pleasure basically. I had a lot of bad reviews about the sex but that’s very easy I think to say always that sex is bad written. What is good-written sex? You have to write about sex because it’s the same as we don’t have to have fear of writing about sex, we do it a lot even if we don’t have a partner, we do it a lot. Our bodies are machines of pain and pleasure at the same time so you have to do it. I really enjoyed doing it. There is also not that much investigation that you have to do. There are a couple of questions maybe you have to ask.
DN: I wanted to at least briefly hear about your interest in Ursula K. Le Guin, a writer who herself had to learn how to write female protagonists too. It’s someone I know you’ve written about several times as a journalist and she was a writer who herself was very interested in Argentina, collaborating with and translating Argentinian poets, translating the fantastical book Kalpa Imperial and more. The final conversation I did for the Le Guin series that I’ve been doing was with Neil Gaiman on the fantastic and the real, and that was a topic that I reached out to you about possibly doing for the series maybe a year ago and the timing was bad. But this intersection of the imagined and the real as I think people already realized hearing us talk is central to your work and it’s central to Le Guin’s. It was really fun to discover that the second chapter in your novel is titled The Left Hand: Dr. Bradford Enters the Darkness. There’s actually a line in it that has the line “Left hand of darkness” in the chapter, which is not referring to Le Guin directly but it feels like a nod. Obviously she wasn’t a horror writer, a terror writer, or a gross-out writer but I know Stephen King, Stephen Graham Jones, Samanta Schweblin, and other horror writers nevertheless have felt inspired by her. I didn’t know if you had any thoughts you wanted to share. It was a fun little thing to trip upon The Left Hand of Darkness inside of the book.
ME: Yeah, I wanted to put a nod to her because it’s also the left-hand path, the darkest part of the practice of magic. But I wanted to put a nod to her because of the androgyny in that book. I remember reading that book. I read it very young and I was amazed at the endless possibilities and how easy she made it seem. Then I read a lot about it and how it was very difficult to reach that. But when you read, it seems very easy. I think that has to do a lot with the fact that she comes from a family of anthropologists and anthropology is intrinsically linked to politics. You can’t think about anthropology and the other and the otherness and the study of the other if you don’t think about politics and how politics somehow put them in there. All her fiction is very, very political. I guess even the Wizard series is very, in a way, I don’t know if political is the word but yeah, The Tombs of Atuan for example, it’s a reflection on power, and then the last one also when she leaves everything behind and decides to take care of this current girl, obviously this girl, woman in my stories, she is not at all a horror writer but she uses a lot of imaginary and a lot of ideas that have to do with power and that sometimes are very, very cruel. The Dispossessed, for example, is a very cruel novel, not in the language, she was very gentle as a person and I think she was very gentle as a writer but her ideas are not. Her ideas are of a mind that is very sharp. I think that is what many of the people that enjoy writing horror can get from her, the edge. She, in a very gentle way, gets you very, very far. I think that her thinking about power and in the late years I think of capitalism is very interesting. Also, the way she thought about power in the smaller world of literature and how she was a very strong advocate of the minor genres like sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and stuff and thinking it about how the powerful ones were the others so we’re keeping this on the fringes where you think about it and you think that Ray Bradbury then didn’t win one award and it’s mind-blowing.
DN: Well, as we come near to an end, I wanted to return to place again, I wanted to ask about the mythologies you draw upon in relation to Argentinian indigenous cultures. I loved looking up things as I read, not just the imbunche, which I couldn’t believe was real down to so many of those morbid details, but San La Muerte to El Duende, and to discover that these stories and supernatural beings largely came from the region where the book takes place. Within the first pages of the book, we get the indigenous guarani story of Queen Anahi who, when burned at the stake, attached to a tree, accused of being a witch, her body is not found the next day but rather a Saba tree full of red flowers. Our protagonist child, Gaspar, asks his father what the difference is between a legend and history and asks whether the story actually happened and his father answers, “Yes and no.” I wanted to know how you see these indigenous stories from the region functioning. You’ve talked elsewhere about how Argentina as a whole has a self-conception as white and European and has looked toward Europe. I wondered if this was a way, again, like we discussed earlier today, for the story to feel like it’s emerging from Argentina, from the setting. Maybe this goes back to psychogeography with the stories that have been spoken in the space that the story is happening in.
ME: Yeah. All the legends and all the pagan saints, they are from that region because I know them, and my family knows them. These were the stories that they told me when I was little. It was like my fairy tales. Some of them are obviously very syncretized already with European mythology, like the Duendes are like fairies, they’re a bit gross but it still has some elements of that, and San La Muerte has two representations really, one is a very Western one with the cape and a skeleton, and the other one that I think is more like older one let’s say, it’s a skeleton sitting and it’s called lord of patience because it can wait for you as death does. But ancestors call this the bones and the cult of the ancestors that some priests probably came and said, “Okay, let’s make it like this.” All these stories are in the conversation of the everyday. People get tattoos of San La Muerte. You go down in Buenos Aires and you’re going see altars of Gauchito Gil that is murdered. He was beheaded and he’s miraculous and there are altars everywhere in the city three blocks from my house and all these stories and these myths are in the everyday conversations like the ghost stories people tell like, “I saw this. I saw that.” That legend of the Guarani princess, that’s the national flower, that’s Argentina’s national flower so you learned it at school. When you are six or seven, the first thing they tell you is this woman that was burned and then it became a red flower. It’s not in the margins, it’s not buried, it’s absolutely alive. The only thing that it wasn’t was in literature. It was, I mean there is, I’m not the only one that does it but I use it in the horror genre and that gives it back I think to all this mythology, the mystery that is needed and also putting it in a minor genre is saying this is something you dismissed and it’s a shame that you did that.
DN: I’m not sure that you mentioned in the book itself that was the national flower or whether I discovered it on my own in doing research. But I was so amazed that was the national flower of Argentina. It made me think of your essay about Argentina’s relationship to beef, to Asado called The Art and Horror of the Argentine Asado. That perhaps like this national flower, a national flower that comes from a burned queen accused of being a witch, that this food, this national food has a strange complex presence in the country. You talk about how one of the earliest Argentinian short stories, a 19th-century story called El Matadero or The Slaughter Yard, it’s a story that takes on the brutality of the president at the time. You say that the Asado and political violence are much like they are in this story, they’re very linked today in Argentina. That during the dictatorship where your book is set, the torture table was called la parrilla or the grill and the grill was the place interrogators would lay out prisoners, pour water over them, and then apply an electric prod. You also talk about how one of your first jobs as a journalist, a job that shows up very briefly in the book and I thought that was really fun that you put that in the life of one of your characters, but one of your first jobs as a journalist was being sent into a really poor part of the city where a truck full of cows had been overturned and many were dead but the people there were butchering and grilling some of them. You say, “When we arrived the police were there, and the truck driver—who was crying—and the street, the only paved one in the area, was covered in cow’s blood and feces. The smell was unbearable. The blood that flowed down the gently sloping road, the furious midday sun, the abandoned cow heads with their staring eyes: it was biblical. From the villa along the road wafted the delicious smell of cooking meat. The blue sky was painted with smoke, and I could hear children laughing.” Then later about the photo that results for the newspaper you say, “I remember that the photo, in black and white, didn’t in any way convey that red, blue, and gray afternoon. Nor did it transmit in the slightest the barbarity, the joy, the death, the smell of blood and shit, the shaken air in the moments after the upset, the knives sinking into hide, the crunch of ribs, the moribund moos of the besieged animals.” When I think of this and I think about how you’ve said that when you write short stories, the path is often clear for you as you go but when you write a novel there’s a sense of getting lost, and how you must have been lost for a long time deep in the barbarity and the smell of blood and the shaken air of this world that you dreamed up for us, for 700 pages, it made me wonder what desires the writing of the book and the finishing of the book created in you. That back in 2019 when you publish this in Spanish, you emerge back outside of the catacombs of your book, and I wonder where that left you, what you produced since because of writing that book and surviving it. [laughter] I imagine you surviving it. Maybe you just loved doing it the whole time but I also Imagine you surviving it. But what have you written since or what can we expect from you since that is somehow a response to having written this?
ME: It is a response because it was full of purpose that novel. I wanted a long novel. I wanted a novel that was like that with a lot of voices. I want a novel with a protagonist like that. I wanted a novel about the body, about disease, about power. I wanted them. I was lost of course and I didn’t know the ending, all the usual things that happened in the novel. But it was full of purpose, it wasn’t just being free and all these ideas, no. Because I also wanted the experience of a long novel that is very obsessive and being very immersed in it. Well, it happened. When I finished this novel, I finished it, I sent it to the Rally price and I went to England to follow my favorite band Suede. It was like this is my getting out of this world by being a fan over van screaming and going on stage and following them in trains with crazy girls. [laughter] The other girls, I was like one of the oldest one all over the country. I came back. I won the prize and COVID came. Everything that happened to the novel, it’s like it didn’t happen to me, it happened to the novel. People were reading it, I wasn’t aware of anything because I was cleaning the house with bleach and my phone with alcohol, [laughter] and having long debates on the phone with my mother about whether to mask or not. She was in a very tragic mode like, “Let me die if I die. Don’t do something.” Anyway, my mother deserves a novel. A year goes by and then there’s the whole problem of the inequality of the vaccines and we didn’t have the vaccine, so there’s this myth that we had the longest quarantine in the world but the thing is that we couldn’t go out because we didn’t have anything to protect us, because we didn’t have the vaccines, we had to buy vaccines from China and Russia. People were telling me all the time, “This really sounds like a novel of yours.” I was like, “No, it doesn’t. This is absolute zero reality to me.” This is nothing like what I do. What I do is getting lost in this world. This is not getting lost in anything. This is millimeter by millimeter taking care of myself so I don’t get sick. We don’t know what it is and this can be worse and I don’t want to die now. This was very urgent and very unliterature to me. I didn’t know what to say. So I spent a year in silence and like in a dark room. I couldn’t find the light to write anything or to say anything. The first thing that happened was I have an Argentinian friend that lives in Mexico. He has been living there for 25 years. He’s a very good friend of Bernardo Esquinca. He’s an illustrator. He always shows me stuff so he started showing me some stuff that he did. He was sick, he recovered more or less quickly, but he spent a lot of time in the house and he started showing me the work that he was doing and it was absolutely different. Our imagination is completely different. He’s much more into other things. But at one point, he realized that all the illustrations had some kinship to them and he was like, “Would you like to write some epigraph, short little story to them, whatever you want?” and it was very useful to me to put my writing and my imagination at the service of something that wasn’t me, that was the images of other person, that was in a way the story of other person, and it ended being a book that’s called The Year of the Rat because in the Chinese horoscope, 2020 is the year of the rat. I think that opened the door that I lost because reality became too real for me. That is something that I’m really not comfortable with. So I started writing again and I’m writing again a novel about ghosts because also these past years have been very ghostly to me. People disappear in other ways. From your life, for example, people that you don’t see anymore, you only see like that, now we are doing this and it’s totally normal to me because last year was very normal, but it became very phantasmagoric. I didn’t know who it was on the other side ever. I think the new novel I’m writing is much more gentle but it’s much more uncanny in a way, more sinister, more subtle. I don’t want the impact anymore. I’m saying this to you and then you will read it and it will be like a massacre but to me, in my parameters, it’s mild, more gentle.
DN: It’s a gentle massacre.
ME: Yeah, it’s much more gentle. [laughter] But at the same time, I started again with short stories and the short stories are full-on body horror, amazing. I don’t know if I even should say this but it doesn’t matter, I just finished a short story about a woman that has a hysterectomy and she sees a picture of her womb and the things inside her womb. She says, “Why should I give this to the garbage of the hospital? I want it with me.” It’s a totally body horror story of this woman reclaiming this part of her that they were taken from her and she’s going from tattoo artist to different doctors to see how they can put it, not back in her because she doesn’t want it back, but in some place of the body that was some cool body modification. They are all coming like that. I think this is because of the two years that we have been talking about vaccines, ventilators, pneumonia, people sick behind brick walls and not being able to go, children going insane because they can’t go to take a walk, the fight about, “Can I get the Russian vaccine?” or “It’s dirty and I’m going to die of it.” All these kinds of things are coming back in short stories because they can’t come back in a novel and in short stories that are absolutely disgusting so I’m becoming like Eric LaRocca or something like that. [laughter]
DN: So a gentle novel and disgusting short stories.
ME: Yeah, that’s who I’m up to I think.
DN: Am I right that I saw that your novel, the new novel is being adapted?
ME: Oh, Share of Night?
ME: Yeah. I don’t know at what point they are because everything with the TV and stuff is so slow but yeah, they are doing it. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say about it.
DN: I hope it’s David Cronenberg.
ME: Oh, no, it’s not. [laughter] But I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret, I would say to you.
ME: I’m dying. It’s David Cronenberg or Brandon, I love them both. I love David more, of course.
DN: Yes. Well, thank you for being on the show today, Mariana.
ME: No, thank you. It was very, very nice. You made me think, which rare because at this point, I just– [laughter] Oh, the novel is from 2019 and we are in 2022 so it’s kind of far away from me and I have certain things that it’s not repeating myself and trying to be a bad interviewee, but the thing is that sometimes you forget about it. They’re asking things and it’s like, “What? I wrote that?” But this was very nice because it made me think about it again and how serious it was to write it.
DN: Yeah, well, it was a pleasure. We were talking today to Mariana Enriquez about her latest novel, her first in English, Our Share of Night. You’ve been listening to Between the Covers. I’m David Naimon, your host.
Today’s program was recorded at the volunteer-powered, non-commercial, listener-sponsored, full-strength, makeshift home office of me, David Naimon. If you enjoyed today’s conversation with Mariana Enriquez, don’t miss the past one with Mexican writer Fernanda Melchor, which is also about questions of horror and the fantastic in relation to place and in relation to gender. It’s a great complement to today’s episode. For the bonus audio archive, we are adding a long-form conversation with Mariana’s translator, Megan McDowell. This joins long-form conversations with Melchor’s translator Sophie Hughes, Ocampo’s translator Suzanne Jill Levine, and a first conversation with Megan McDowell about translating Alejandro Zambra. There are also readings and craft talks from many past guests; from Marlon James to Cristina Rivera Garza to Ted Chiang. These generous contributions join collectibles from everyone from Ursula K. Le Guin to Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, the Tin House early readership subscription, getting 12 books over the course of a year months before they’re available to the general public, to getting a bundle of books selected by me and sent to you. In addition, every supporter can join our brainstorm of future guests and every listener-supporter receives the supplemental resources with each conversation. You can find out more at patreon.com/betweenthecovers. Or if you prefer a one-time donation, you can do so via PayPal at tinhouse.com/support. I’d like to thank the Tin House team: Elizabeth Demeo and Alyssa Ogi in the Book Division, Becky Kraemer and Jae Nichelle in Publicity, and Lance Cleland, the Director of the Summer and Winter Tin House Writers Workshops. Finally, I’d like to thank Imre Lodbrog and Barbara Browning for creating the outro. Their album Imre Lodbrog et sa Petite Amie can be found on iTunes and Barbara Browning’s trove of ukulele covers can be found at soundcloud.com/barbarabrowning.