Review: Seven Empty Houses - Samanta Schweblin
Genre: Short Story Collection, Literary Horror
Published: One World Publications (US) & Riverhead Books (UK), October 2022, originally published May 2015
Translation: Megan McDowell
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
As with any of her previous works, I foresee Seven Empty Houses being met with mixed critiques, ranging from boring to fascinating. I fall confidently within the second camp; to me, I was engrossed, fascinated and immersed in what I find the authors best work to date.
Schweblins 2015 collection, now making its debut in English translation, doesn’t contain your typical “horror” stories. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if many traditionally western readers wouldn’t place this in the horror-category at all. Within the walls of these 7 empty houses, you won’t find any ghosts, goblins or ghouls. Instead, you’ll find them haunted by a dread of another nature entirely.
With Fever Dream and Mouthful of Birds, Schweblin already demonstrated her pension for domestic horror; creating dread and unease within the smallest and most mundane situation. It’s such a distinct and difficult feeling to nail but she does so perfectly within Seven Empty Houses. Each story (or house, in the case of this collection) on the surface, seems to depict an unremarkable scene. Yet each brings with them a unique atmosphere and emotion for the reader, ranging from dread to heartbreak, to vicarious shame and an almost voyeuristic sense of intruding into another’s personal space.
In None of That, a woman delirious with the shock of a car-crash, enters the home of a helpful stranger, only to take off with her sugar-bowl. Her daughter tries to talk sense into her mother, following this completely irrational behaviour.
In My Parents and My Children, a mother anxiety over leaving her children with her aging parents is laid bare in a literal way.
In It Happens All the Time (one of the shortest and my favourite out of the stories) a woman observes a strange weekly ritual play out in her neighbour’s yard. After an emotional argument, the husband scatters their deceased sons clothing from the window, to land in the trees like rain.
In Breath from the Depth, an elderly woman struggles with the deterioration and defamiliarization with her own body and memories in aging.
In 2 Square Feet, a woman reminisces over the space she, her body and all her stuff take up in the world, as she’s on a night-time grocery-run for aspirin for her mother-in-law.
In An Unlucky Man, a young girl, having witnessed a traumatic event, is helped out by an unfamiliar man. Is he a good Samaritan, or taking advantage of a vulnerable situation?
And finally, in Out, a woman stumbles through the nightly streets in her bathrobe and slippers, in a desperate flight from her apartment, and a difficult conversation with her husband.
Each of these stories will creep up on you, leaving you thinking about them long after you’ve finished, their dread growing over time. I can see this being very “niche” in its appeal, but if you’re a fan of this warping-the-mundane-style of horror, this is a masterpiece within its genre. Perfect for fans of Mouthful of Birds, Things We Say in the Dark, From the Neck Up or even In the Dream House.
Many thanks to One World Publications for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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