I gazed into the mirror, hoping that it would reflect creatures less afflicted, less demented than ourselves.– “The Punishment,” Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo
Summary and Thoughts
Thus Were Their Faces collects a wide range of Ocampo’s best short fiction and novella-length stories from her whole writing life. Stories about creepy doubles, a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks to a girl, a house of sugar that is the site of an eerie possession, children who lock their perverse mothers in a room and burn it, a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote that the cruelty of Ocampo’s stories was the result of her nobility of soul, a judgment as paradoxical as much of her own writing. For her whole life Ocampo avoided the public eye, though since her death in 1993 her reputation has only continued to grow, like a magical forest. Dark, gothic, fantastic, and grotesque, these haunting stories are among the world’s finest.
A spooky collection of haunting stories, Thus Were Their Faces traces the uncanny events, encounters, and emotions of various middle-high class families in Argentina. To describe the vibe of the stories, I would recall the old tale of the woman with a ribbon tied around her neck, who, on her deathbed, untied her ribbon to let her head fall off. Yeah, that kind of unnerving. Similarly, Ocampo’s work is the kind that provides more (dark) questions at the end than answers. As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, with some easier to grasp than others. Ocampo’s skill in describing the mundane as disturbing, capturing unique deposits of horror within the human psyche, and delivering powerful revelations through a detached, direct tone is certainly a feat to behold. Some of my favorite stories include: “The House Made of Sugar,” “The Basement,” “The Photographs,” “The Punishment,” “Thus Were Their Faces,” “Friends,” “Icera,” “The Perfect Crime,” and “The Fury.” If you every have a chance to read Ocampo’s work, I highly recommend reading at least one of the above.
For Those Who Enjoyed
- Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
- The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
- The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel