Fresh Dirt from the Grave, by Giovanna Rivero (translated by Isabel Adey)
Short Stories, Horror
Settings: Bolivia, Canada
[CWs: death, SA, racism, violence, cannibalism, medical trauma]
This haunting collection of stories is out today from Charco Press, so it seemed pretty timely to share this post!
A shipwreck survivor meets with the mother of the sailor who died on the boat next to him. A woman grapples with the discomfort of visiting her mentally unwell and taunting aunt. A widow who runs a craft class in the local women's prison is unsettled by the trace of crimes unknown in the eyes of the students who look back at her. A woman with a long-undetected pituitary gland tumour recounts her turbulent childhood growing up on the edges of society before she loses the solidity of her memories.
In these 6 gothic short stories, Rivero brings together elements of traditional horror and the supernatural with the brutal reality of the contemporary world, tackling challenging subject matter including racism, SA within closed communities and ethically questionable human medical trials. Many of the stories play on the intense discomfort of loss of bodily autonomy - sometimes removed consensually but coercively into the custody of others, sometimes forcibly seized and weaponised - and for this reason it is far from an easy read, but it is powerful and affecting.
I felt there were no duds in the collection as can sometimes be the case with short stories - I enjoyed every single one and they each had a different flavour: one takes the form of a conversation, another a sort of confessional speech delivered to a church congregation. There are still common threads and themes though - many of the characters are perceived 'outsiders' of society, including people from indigenous and minority communities and those marginalised due to poverty or mental health, and oftentimes the stories tread the moral grey areas of life, raising questions around how we conceptualise good and evil and seek to balance the karmic score sheet.
Another consistent aspect between the stories is the lyrical and evocative writing style; there is beauty in the dirt and the raw descriptions of the macabre, and Rivero expertly captures some of those brief, but inexplicably unsettling moments that punctuate our daily encounters, as well as the more large-scale horrors that inevitably destroy lives.
'There was black blood on the pastures. There was blood. A lot. There were perhaps spine-chilling rivers of blood treacherously fertilising the crop fields, invisible, sticky blades of grass that soiled everything: air and breath, wood and metal. There was blood, the kind that sticks to the souls of your shoes, making your footsteps devour your heels with betrayal.'