How is it that good horror literature continues to have its effects on today’s readers, crossed, no longer by too many beliefs in the supernatural, but also by skepticism and scientism? What are the secrets of the narrative that still disturbs and scares from a representation of the aberrational and, in many cases, supernatural? These are questions that, I suspect, the writer from La Paz Mauricio Murillo would be in a position to answer, since he has put together an effective book of short stories entitled We have been happy for a long time (Parc Editores, 2022).
The anthology is made up of six fictional stories that have been selected and ordered to achieve an effect of increasing intensity on the reader, provoking, with the first stories, a certain restlessness and strangeness, escalating later, in the final three stories, towards a fear palpable, felt in the spine, in the numb and bristling arms, in the unconsciously held breath.
The first story is titled The Sandbox. The reader will know how to appreciate a detached prose, without the pressing tone of Lovecraft, the flourishes of Borges and the philosophical reflections of Dostoyevsky or Ernesto Sabato. Nothing of that. In these “minimal stories” (as Murillo said in an interview) the focus is on the action and is narrated from a certain emotional distance, which configures a lean and fluid prose that, however, gradually outlines the environment, with details carefully deposited in the text to facilitate the reader that experience that John Gardner resembled that of “a vivid dream” and that, Gardner said, is the sign of a successful fiction.
Murillo’s refined style throughout the book approaches (in its balanced and smoothly moving prose) those of Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and all that American tradition that bets on for the moderation of the narrative voice and a strict economy of words. Not a single line is too much in the stories in this book, and that is something readers will always thank contemporary fiction authors for.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that the intuitive nature of the female characters in El arenero reminds us of some stories by Mariana Enríquez.
The second story is gruesome and entitled Reception Center, tells the story of Mariel, a young woman who usually calls her brother on the phone to tell him where she has ended up after leaving the house where they lived together, with her mother. of them two. In this account, Murillo writes: “Her voice came from the telephone, from inside the device, as if she had remained locked there, in a mist that made her speak without modulations, with a pitchy voice, dense, bottomless.”
The third story is entitled El hotel del lago and has the structure of a police narrative: a death (or several deaths) and characters dedicated to finding the person responsible. However, something that is common to all the stories in this book is that the inexplicable prevails, remains unchanged, remains impossible. This is a success of the author, since his stories work very well within this conception of horror fiction.
Then comes Partition, a story in which a young woman is torn between violence, the need for a break, the love of animals and, of course, the incredible and terrifying.
The ghost body is the fifth story in the book, a Kafkaesque story with a character condemned to find the exact measure of his guilt in an environment of labyrinthine bureaucracy and people who complicate and condemn him.
The anthology closes with Subsuelo, the story of Mauricio and his antagonist, Barrero. An important feature of this story is that the author constructs the environment (a building, a city, the neighbors) with the same roundness and completeness as the main characters, so that the effect of physical and psychological disintegration, in this story, is due in part to that careful work when it comes to “drawing” the environment.
The author and the publisher have been generous enough to include a bonus, the story entitled You will hear dogs approaching. There is a nod to Juan Rulfo, specifically the story Don’t you hear the dogs barking? Like the master of Mexican literary fiction, Murillo here changes the register of the characters, bringing them closer to the colloquial and minimalist, since they are poverty-stricken and surly characters, who resolve their encounters almost without saying a word. The presence of the “impossible” here is not so clear and perhaps that is the reason why it is a bonus and not an integral part of the anthology.
In short, with this book it is clear that, as regards the literary creation of the horror genre, Mauricio Murillo continues to work as il miglior fabbro. Borrowing Piglia’s words, it could be said that Murillo works as “the greatest artist, that is, the one who knows the technique best”. And it is that anyone who has also read the novel Sombras de Hiroshima, will notice that Murillo does not fail when it comes to making obfuscating or terrifying fictions, which in the case of We have been happy for a long time also obey a personal conception of the short narrative, which in the author’s opinion should be sober, neat and without waste.