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New York Times Reviews ‘Seven Empty Houses’

Peepholes Into Private Lives, Dark and Unstable

The stories in Samanta Schweblin’s “Seven Empty Houses,” a finalist for the National Book Award in translated literature, tear down the delicate scaffolding of home.

By Liska Jacobs

SEVEN EMPTY HOUSES, by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

Rejoice! Just when we’re settling into fall, all cozy on the couch with a Netflix show queued up, a new short story collection from Samanta Schweblin is here to spit in your pumpkin spiced latte and drag its nails down the wall. “Seven Empty Houses,” first published in Spanish in 2015 and now translated into English by Megan McDowell, takes aim at the place we feel safest: home. Darker and more tinged with terror than her breakthrough novel, “Fever Dream,” this is Schweblin at her sharpest and most ferocious.

Arranged as peepholes into the private lives of others, each of these seven stories centers on a domestic dwelling, exploring how the things that constitute our most intimate spaces are relational and interconnected, and therefore in many ways the most unstable. There are absences on many levels: Characters disappear and reappear; most are unnamed. What remains are our labels, those signifiers that connect us to others and give us a sense of identity. There are mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, wives, in-laws, sisters and husbands. These roles give Schweblin room to play with expectations and taboos. In “An Unlucky Man,” an unnamed male stranger leads a little girl away from her parents in a hospital waiting room, with the promise of buying her a pair of underwear. In “My Parents and My Children,” a man’s family members are frolicking around nude when they go missing. A police officer asks, “Are you telling me that there are children and adults naked and together?” Schweblin is never explicit. Any implied creepiness is a product of the reader’s own imagination. In other words, the phone call is coming from inside the house. Read the full review at the New York Times.

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