Seven Empty Houses

Riverhead. Oct. 2022. 208p. tr. from Spanish by Megan McDowell. ISBN 9780525541394. $25. F
Thrice an International Booker Prize finalist, most recently for Mouthful of Birds, Buenos Aires–born, Berlin-based Schweblin made her name with this collection, appearing for the first time in English. While these seven stories don’t necessarily exhibit the shimmering, otherworldly language for which she is famous, the inventive weirdness is there. A woman can’t defuse her mother’s obsession with home- and yard-invasion, meant to correct bad decorating and the mistreatment of objects. An ex-wife can’t abide the convention-flouting ways of her former parents-in-law—now they’re dancing naked in the backyard—but the kids seem to love it. A husband gingerly retrieves his dead son’s clothes, repeatedly tossed in a neighbor’s yard by his wife. In the longest, most affecting story, an ailing woman who wants to die watches enviously as her husband befriends the boy next door. Not only has her world shrunk down to pettiness, but it’s clear that her hold on reality has slipped. Throughout these sorrowing, often death-tinged stories, there’s emptiness—primarily of meaning and affection.
VERDICT A sure bet for Schweblin fans and connoisseurs of off-kilter worlds, though some readers may feel distanced.
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