by Mariana Enríquez
from the December 19 & 26, 2016 issue of The New Yorker

Oh boy. It’s the last New Yorker issue of 2016. I’m at least a month behind, not just in my reading but also in my mental time of year. It doesn’t feel like it’s time to take stock on the year quite yet, but here we are. Let’s hope they end 2016 with a great story.

This is Mariana Enríquez’s New Yorker debut. In fact, I think it is her English-language debut, though she’s been publishing since the 1990s and has had her work translated into several other languages. Help me out if I’m overlooking something. Next February, Hogarth will be publishing a collection of her stories called Things We Lost in the Fire, and I am betting “Spiderweb” is one of the stories in the forthcoming collection. Not having read the story yet, and not knowing anything about Enríquez until this morning, I am heartened by this bit from Hogarth: “An arresting collection of short stories, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortazar, by an exciting new international talent.” I know publishers can put all kinds of things down there to entice readers, but they hit a personal sweet spot by mentioning Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortazar. I’m going into this one with enthusiasm!

Please share your thoughts below! We often have a lively discussion, so join in!

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By |2017-05-25T17:37:20-04:00December 12th, 2016|Categories: Mariana Enríquez, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |11 Comments


  1. Avataram December 12, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Wonderful short story, a delightful end to the year. Along with comparisons to Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortazar, the story also invites comparison to Bolano’s “Last evenings on earth”.

  2. Leah Pomerantz December 13, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    I’m excited to read this. I might use it as my New Yorker reading group’s option because I’m in charge this month!

  3. Eric December 15, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I’m not terribly familiar with Jackson’s or Cortazar’s work, but I’m not surprised that this would be compared to mid-20th century fiction writers, this strikes me as the kind of story that was a lot more common back in the heyday of commercial fiction. Good, solid, entertaining middlebrow stuff, more memorable for its characters than its plot, put together without a lot of originality but with a high degree of professionalism. Not a story that’ll change anyone’s life, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of Enriquez’s work.

  4. David December 15, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Eric, I agree with your assessment, except I would hesitate to call the characters memorable. Juan Martín is too one-dimensional and it never is clear why the narrator would have married him. Natalia gives me the impression that Enríquez had more of an idea of who she was but never got around to developing her. The narrator is a bit more interesting but would have probably benefited from improvements in her supporting characters.
    I too enjoyed the story while I was reading it, but at the end did not feel like there was much to take away from it. I doubt I will seek out more of Enríquez’s work, but if something else presents itself to me I won’t skip over it either. I wonder if there might be more subtle things going on in the story that people more familiar with the culture and politics of South America might get, but for me it was just an ok story.

  5. William December 19, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    Bugs – mosquitoes, chicharra/cicadas, damselflies, tiny flies (“flying fragments of darkness”), fireflies, locusts and crickets – inhabit this story. Although the author brushes them off (pun intended) in her commentary, I think they have significance. Blind, dumb creatures from the dark side of Nature, night creatures. Are they Eumenides?

    Certainly this story has its share of darkness. Such as the car breaking down along the roadside.

    Also omens – the dogs dead along the road, with their puppies lying agonizing around. And the ghost stories, especially the one with the missing mother-in-law.

    All of the talk of violence and death:

    “I would have handed him right over to Stroessner’s soldiers”

    “Babe, death is the only problem without a solution.”

    “I was never going to have sex with him again, not even if he held a gun to my head.”

    ‘”It occurred to me that it would be easy to kill him right there.”

    “The cigarette would have set the sheets on fire, and he would die there, in the Clorinda hotel.”

    “They told me that the military had built that bridge, and they’d put dead people in the cement.”

    Clearly, the military and the ruthless Stroessner regime are conflated with the supernatural forces of darkness. Soldiers and sorcerers, natural evil and supernatural evil, mixed together

    All of these elements make this a superior ghost story, in my opinion. I enjoyed reading it. Enriquez is a good writer, her prose is strong and dynamic, it moves forward with none of the petty anxiety that we find in some American female writers. These people are dealing with true danger, vicious brutal soldiers, not pitiful FWPs. The waitress is in danger of being raped, not just brooding about how her best friend got tired of her complaining and catastrophizing.

    And although Enriquez is writing a ghost story, she keeps it in control. No overdramatizing, no overexplaining. She writes a good solid ending, she doesn’t reach for too much.

    Juan Martin’s end is foreshadowed in 3 scenes – where he complains about the soldiers at the checkpoint (although after they are past), where he complains that the people in the market are crooks, and where he almost confronts the soldiers who are harassing the waitress.

    What happens to him? It’s almost irrelevant. But it probably involves the soldiers. As the author says in her interview: “They definitely did do something to him.”

    Although I think it also implies the power of sorcery. Natalia acquires lace – “spiderwebs of delicate, colorful thread.” The narrator calls it “beautiful, but disturbing”. And what gets caught in a spiderweb? All of those bugs and flies in the story. As well as Juan Martin, perhaps.

    What did “they” do? It doesn’t matter. The two women drive away.

  6. Greg December 20, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Thank you so much William for explaining why and how the author was successful with this genre story!

    My very favourite part of your comprehensive post was this:

    “Enriquez is a good writer, her prose is strong and dynamic, it moves forward with none of the petty anxiety that we find in some American female writers. These people are dealing with true danger, vicious brutal soldiers, not pitiful First World Problems. The waitress is in danger of being raped, not just brooding about how her best friend got tired of her complaining and catastrophizing.”

  7. Ken December 22, 2016 at 3:22 am

    I didn’t get that soldiers had taken Martin although it’s certainly possible I don’t see any reason to believe that it’s the case and don’t feel the writer’s statements should be considered proof. Within the story itself we certainly see a repressive regime and a man who seems to be so arrogant he feels he can tempt fate by infuriating the military, but none of the incidents had panned out and by the time he disappears we are many miles away. Unless, of course, he started fresh trouble how could his two brief incidents earlier catch up with him in a city where he wouldn’t even be expected to stay (if not for the car trouble).

    I enjoyed this as middlebrow fiction, per the comments of Eric. The cousin is a lively, if a bit stereotypical character–excess, long black hair, sexuality, tarot reading—and the story is a good page turner. I didn’t find the ending satisfying for a short story and was thinking this was part of a larger work although no one above has indicated this. I was thinking that Martin’s fate would be divulged in the rest of the book, but seemingly this is a standalone short story.

  8. Eric December 27, 2016 at 10:15 am

    Yes, this is a standalone story from a short story collection, which has already been published in Spanish. I’ve gotten the book from a local library, and the stories appear to be unrelated, without any of the characters recurring in other stories.

    1980s Paraguay as portrayed in this story seems to be in a Hobbesian “state of nature”, or anyway much closer to that than anything most of us are used to. There doesn’t seem to be any real law, just a bunch of thugs, some with uniforms and some without. In such an environment people can and do “disappear” in a number of different ways for a number of different reasons, and the people they leave behind learn not to ask too many questions. For it to happen so fast might be a stretch, though.

  9. Eric December 27, 2016 at 11:04 am

    When I read a good story translated from Spanish I like to seek out the original, it’s fun to see the differences and good practice for mastering a language. Comparing the two versions was a little different with this story though, because the translator took a less literal approach than I normally see in Spanish translations. A lot of the colloquialisms, rhetorical flourishes and grammatical tricks that are common in Spanish prose don’t fully translate into English, and if you stick close to the original text the result can come across as fussy and soap-opera-ish (“novelera”). Here, though, the translator punts–many of the Spanish-isms and Argentina-isms are paraphrased or simply left out. The toned-down result reads something like a story by Stephen King, who the author cites as an influence and who I generally like in small doses.

    Of course, the problem is that if you leave stuff out than some important things can be lost. And, as a kind of reply to David it is worth noting that Juan Martin is a notably more vivid character (though still not three-dimensional) in the Spanish original than in the translation, and that it is arguably made clearer why the narrator married him. What gets translated as “because of that solitude I fell in love too quickly, I got married impetuously” reads in the original as something more like “I blame the loneliness for the fact that I fell in love too quickly and got married motivated by desperation”. But of course that sounds pretty klunky in English. I guess when you do a translation these kinds of tradeoffs are inevitable.

  10. William December 27, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Eric —

    Thanks for sharing those insights, esp about translation and “disappearing” When I saw your comment on disappearing, I thought, “Of course, Argentina is the country where “the disappeared” became an official phrase.” I googled it just to make sure. This was the first citation:

    “The Disappeared The story of September 26, 2014, the day 43 Mexican students went missing”

    Next were several references to the similar use of the phrase in Northern Ireland, Then an article about Argentina.

    It’s easy for those of us who live in a country where people don’t disappear to criticize the literary use of this phenomenon.

  11. shepherd Moyo August 5, 2017 at 10:32 am

    what is the purpose of the story?

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