BookBrowse Reviews Mexico by Josh Barkan

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Mexico

Stories

by Josh Barkan

Mexico by Josh Barkan X
Mexico by Josh Barkan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Jan 2017, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Mexico shines light on universal moral challenges even as it focuses on one sprawling and complex urban backdrop.

Despite the gritty view revealed through the eyes of its complex and flawed characters, and the pervasive violence woven throughout, Josh Barkan's short story collection is a love song to Mexico City. As we spend brief moments with ordinary people living in this large and dynamic metropolis, we are introduced to its food, art, architecture, and even the highway system—creating a vivid sensorial experience.

Like the author, most of the central characters are outsiders, having moved to Mexico from the United States (see 'Beyond the Book'). This influences their perspective, yet they feel a sense of belonging and appreciation for their adopted home. A few of these expatriates include a teacher working in an elite private school; a retired nurse seeking an affordable place to live on her pension; an army veteran working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the CIA; a journalist tracking stories for an American paper; and a plastic surgeon serving people from all socioeconomic classes. Other stories feature Mexican nationals with an equally varied set of vocations such as artist, architect, and sales representative.

Although the character situations and conflicts vary greatly, there is a similarity to the narrative tone throughout. The voice of the central character in each story does not change much but this is not a problem as the writing is clear and easy to understand. I've found that some modern short story collections sacrifice clarity in order to experiment with form, so I appreciated the straightforward storytelling.

A common thread woven throughout is the presence and impact of violence doled out via members of drug cartels. In one way or another, the "narcos" or gangsters are a part of every narrative. The opening story, "The Chef and El Chapo," features an American chef who has relocated to Mexico to earn higher acclaim for his culinary prowess than he received in the United States. When El Chapo—"Shorty"—Guzman demands a special meal created solely for him, using only two ingredients, the chef is filled with angst, knowing death is a possible consequence of failure. He meets the challenge, but only after sacrificing his own ethics, as well as the innocence of a young girl. Readers have been warned. By the middle of the collection I found myself weary of the constant presence of the cartels and the random acts of violence they impart on the lives of ordinary citizens, but perhaps that is the author's point: The ever-present threat of violence is exhausting and may numb citizens to its effects. It's difficult to stay in a constant state of shock and outrage.

One particularly poignant story, "The Painting Professor," is alternately narrated by an elderly art professor suffering from dementia and a young man working his way up the ranks of the cartel. Their lives intersect and overlap in unexpected ways, but each has his own viewpoint and does not begin to understand the thoughts and feelings of the other. Art and its place within this society, comes to represent the great divide between the educated elite and the poor. Each man seeks attention and validation—the professor from the critics and public, and the gangster from the professor.

The majority of the characters are straight men, which provides a somewhat narrow perspective, but the few stories that focused on someone outside this parameter were not as effective. "I Want to Live" features an American nurse with breast cancer. While in the hospital waiting room she questions another woman about the scars on her face. Their subsequent conversation turns into a story within a story as the scarred woman shares the origin of her scars. This turns the focus to the rising of a drug lord, rather than following through on the issues of either woman. Their lives and problems feel minimized and forgotten. A gay young man is the narrator of "Everything Else is Going to Be All Right" but his desire for love without sex doesn't ring authentic, despite the inclusion of a somewhat confusing history of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. Even so, the conclusion of this story feels the most hopeful of the set.

This short story collection provides a peek into a wide range of life experiences within a busy, dangerous, yet beautiful city. While no easy solutions are offered for dealing with the pervasive crime and violence, readers will better understand the challenges faced.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

This review is from the March 22, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  American Expats in Mexico

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: In Byron's Wake
    In Byron's Wake
    by Miranda Seymour
    It's tempting to think that our age of celebrity worship coupled with the 24-hour news cycle is ...
  • Book Jacket: The Latecomers
    The Latecomers
    by Helen Klein Ross
    The Latecomers is the third novel written by acclaimed author Helen Klein Ross, following What Was ...
  • Book Jacket: The Inflamed Mind
    The Inflamed Mind
    by Edward Bullmore
    It is common knowledge that depression diminishes the quality of sufferers' lives, but few people ...
  • Book Jacket: The Adults
    The Adults
    by Caroline Hulse
    Things have already fallen apart on the first page of The Adults. The novel opens with an emergency ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Force of Nature
by Jane Harper

As atmospheric, tense, and explosive as her New York Times bestselling debut, The Dry!

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Golden Child
    by Claire Adam

    A deeply affecting debut novel set in Trinidad, following the lives of a family as they navigate impossible choices.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Uncommon Type

Uncommon Type
by Tom Hanks

Surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and a must-have for Tom Hanks fans!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Tell I T T M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.