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 ... Schweblin is never explicit. Any implied creepiness is a product of the reader’s own imagination ... Scarier than any fall horror movie...is the knowledge that the various assemblages of our lives are merely delicate scaffolding, liable to come crashing down at any moment.
... spectacular and strange stories ... These characters are not intentionally malevolent, yet they cause — and carry — real pain. Schweblin is particularly focused on the anguish that arises from disruptions in the natural order of things, like when a child dies before their parents ... Schweblin’s ability to upend readers’ emotional stability with a single phrase is never better displayed than in the collection’s standout, 'Breath From the Depths,' a wrenching depiction of grief and mental decline ... made more disturbing by all the things Schweblin doesn’t clarify, by the common threads that are not tied-off with pretty bows, by the unanswered questions that allow readers to relate the fates of the book’s characters to those of their own parents, spouses, friends or neighbors. The most disquieting realization of all is perhaps the fact that any of these scenarios could arrive at any moment, not only during the spookiest time of the year.
[A] sense of dreamlike menace infuses the linked fictions in Samanta Schweblin’s Seven Empty Houses, beautifully translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell ... These stories pulse with blood and lust, ego and id, as Schweblin punches above her weight ... Schweblin tells all the story but tells it slant ... Schweblin is at the forefront of emerging Latin American writers, defiant and assured, swaggering among the jungles of sex, love, and politics ... Whe tinkers with the envelope of narrative: She’s a tad more restrained, though, focused on the liminal spaces between what we know and what we desire.
Although not as eerie as Schweblin’s readers might expect, there is certainly a great deal to linger over after the final page is turned. Chief among them, a choice: which of the losses bearing down on us are we willing to release to find relief? ... The thing Schweblin does so expertly in the strongest of Houses’ narratives is not only making note of the assumptions her readers carry with them, but wielding them for her own, unforeseen ends ... Among the most intriguing examples of loss in this collection captures the fragile moment of understanding between two people who both crave a reprieve from the tension plaguing their respective romantic partnerships ... Schweblin interrogates the concept of empty space by forcing it to take a different shape in every story ... Schweblin urges us to confront the emotions, ideas, and personal qualities we would dearly love to ignore, or to erase outright.
There’s a low-key surreality to these stories, which use dream imagery and unconventional structure to keep things weird ... The other stories struggle to match the intensity of Breath. They are mostly quite short, flitting in and out without making much of an impression. Schweblin sets a scene and then ends it abruptly without resolution. It’s a bit like catching a glimpse of something unsettling in the window of a house as you are driving by, what looks like a woman putting a noose around her neck but is probably just a necklace. It’s compelling in the moment, but forgettable once you correct your misperception ... Schweblin’s strength is in the longform ... In her stories, Schweblin relies heavily on the quirky and off-centre image, like a woman burying a sugar bowl in the backyard or a man volunteering to be murdered by his wife, but they aren’t strong enough to survive the turning of the page. Worse still, excise Breath and the book is that most dreaded of descriptors: tasteful, something that would fit right in on a shelf whose books are arranged by colour. Give us the weird, Schweblin. We know you have it in you.
... meticulously translated ... Schweblin skilfully directs our unease until it mirrors that of her protagonist’s ... Part of the pleasure of Schweblin’s fictions is how she subverts expectations ... Schweblin is good at depicting the destabilising effects of grief and absence. Occasionally a story misses the mark or is too ethereal to fully satisfy, but her fractured worlds make compelling reading.
Seamlessly translated ... Accolades aside, Seven Empty Houses is not Schweblin’s most realised work. ‘I am really interested in tension,’ she said in a recent interview. Tension, however, requires stakes, as skilfully erected in her novels Fever Dream, about a woman dying from the effects of pesticide, and Little Eyes, on the voyeuristic risks of technology. As the stories in this collection are more atmospheric than driven by character or plot, most remain vignettes. They court a sensation of strangeness but, unlike elsewhere in her oeuvre, stretching reality falls short of illuminating its absurdities.
While these seven stories don’t necessarily exhibit the shimmering, otherworldly language for which she is famous, the inventive weirdness is there ... Throughout these sorrowing, often death-tinged stories, there’s emptiness—primarily of meaning and affection ... A sure bet for Schweblin fans and connoisseurs of off-kilter worlds, though some readers may feel distanced.
Undercooked ... Unfortunately, Schweblin’s stories are far more evocative than substantive, and their sense of uncanny weightlessness—told in brisk, nondescript prose, featuring nameless and indistinct narrators and aimless plots—diminishes intrigue and leaves the reader hungry for deeper imaginative leaps. The exception is 'Breath from the Depths,' which follows Lola, a retiree, as she descends into dementia and feuds with the young mother across the street. Schweblin can evoke a mesmerizing, eerie tone, but too often does little more than that.