A dark and dreamy collection by Schweblin (Fever Dream, 2017), like an eerie walk through a perpetual twilight of uneasy—and often absurdly funny—states of consciousness and being.
In these 20 swiftly running stories, unimpeachably translated from Spanish by McDowell, Schweblin explores the slippery terrain of the mind's deeper recesses, where anxieties over the limits, or lack thereof, of the possible multiply and mutate. The collection’s trenchant first story, “Headlights,” begins with a bride realizing she’s been abandoned on the side of a highway by her new husband after stopping for a bathroom break, ostensibly because she took too long and “waiting wears [men] out.” Here she encounters a field full of jilted, wailing, and vengeful fellow brides in a witty examination of gender allegiances and competition, and dependency and tolerance in romantic relationships. “Preserves” introduces a pregnant woman and her husband who are both unprepared for the rigors of parenthood; they take drastic measures to eliminate the pregnancy but somehow preserve their would-be daughter for when they're ready. In the title story, the limitlessness and obligations of parental love are put to the test by a teenage daughter's curious appetites. And in "Toward a Happy Civilization," in a clever dilation of the idea of never being content where one is, an office worker from the capital plots his escape from the countryside, where he's being held captive by a train station attendant and his wife, who cooks wholesome meals and assigns daily tasks of vigorous outdoor labor to the man and their other office-worker detainees. Though some stories are more desultory than others and may not entirely satisfy, at her best, Schweblin builds dense and uncanny worlds, probing the psychology of human relationships and the ways we perceive existence and interpret culture, with dark humor and sharp teeth.
An assemblage of both gauzy and substantial stories from an unquestionably imaginative author.