Published by Hogarth on January 24th 2017
The unforgettable characters in Josh Barkan’s astonishing and beautiful story collection—chef, architect, nurse, high school teacher, painter, beauty queen, classical bass player, plastic surgeon, businessman, mime—are simply trying to lead their lives and steer clear of violence. Yet, inevitably, crime has a way of intruding on their lives all the same. A surgeon finds himself forced into performing a risky procedure on a narco killer. A teacher struggles to protect lovestruck students whose forbidden romance has put them in mortal peril. A painter’s freewheeling ways land him in the back of a kidnapper’s car. Again and again, the walls between “ordinary life” and cartel violence are shown to be paper thin, and when they collapse the consequences are life-changing.
These are stories about transformation and danger, passion and heartbreak, terror and triumph. They are funny, deeply moving, and stunningly well-crafted, and they tap into the most universal and enduring human experiences: love even in the face of danger and loss, the struggle to grow and keep faith amid hardship and conflict, and the pursuit of authenticity and courage over apathy and oppression. With unflinching honesty and exquisite tenderness, Josh Barkan masterfully introduces us to characters that are full of life, marking the arrival of a new and essential voice in American fiction.
This book was brutal to read.
This year I went through a phase of being interested in reading/watching stuff about Mexico that included seeing an installation on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at The University of Texas and continued through the heartbreaking tragedy of the earthquake in September.
During that time I noticed this book on my library’s New shelf and grabbed it. It’s a book of short stories all written by the same author and all about Mexico. What I didn’t know was that although the stories cover a wide variety of people in Mexico they all hold one thing in common: violence.
Every story has some bits of normalcy: someone working at a restaurant, someone taking their kids to the park, two teens in love. But that normalcy is taken over by violence every time.
I watched Netflix’s Narcos this year and although I that series showed how brutal cartels can be these stories were still shocking and unsettling.
Mexico is the closest foreign country to my home city and my traveler’s heart yearns to visit and explore. Through exploring I want to find out what real life is like there. This book does very little in feeding wanderlust though. It sticks with growing stories out of stereotypes and feeding a perception that is already very available. There is little hope in these pages and I refuse to believe that defines an entire country.
This was book number 40 of 52 for 201.