Twelve crime-tinted short stories from an American writer who lives part-time in Mexico.
There’s a Carver-esque quality to these painterly portraits of everyday people living in and around Mexico City. Barkan (Before Hiroshima: The Confession of Murayama Kazuo and Other Stories, 2011, etc.) brings a journalist’s eye to his stories and lends each of his primary characters a believable sympathy and often a life-changing moment. Despite the inherent compassion in many of these stories, there’s also an underpinning of violence from Mexico’s ongoing drug war that gives them a very unsettled air. In the opener, “The Chef and El Chapo,” a highly trained chef is faced with the unenviable task of making a delicious dish for the infamous head of the Sinaloa Cartel—using only two ingredients. Desperate to save a restaurant full of potential victims from harm, the chef dishes up slices of Wagyu beef seasoned with a child’s blood. In “The God of Common Names,” a Jewish schoolteacher tries to protect a star-crossed romance between two of his students and learns a hard lesson about faith and redemption. In “I Want to Live,” an angry cancer patient confronts a famous and beautiful woman about her scars. Sometimes the violence in these stories is casual, as related by the narrator of “Acapulco,” who blithely tells a tale of nightclubbing that ends in an execution. Yet in the very next story, “The Kidnapping,” the violence is visceral and ugly and very real. “The cry from that woman, there was no faking there,” says the narrator. “They take a pair of kitchen shears. They run it up along the skin. They scrape your knuckles with the edge of the blade of the scissors, until they bleed. I know how they do it, 'cause later they took one of my fingers off and sent it to my family. This is what they do.”
Masterful stories that peel away at the thin border between everyday life and profane violence in modern-day Mexico.