MEXICO: Stories by Josh Barkan
Shame on me! I must have misread the description offered on this book because I was under the impression it was a collection of true stories. But because the subject matter is somewhat intriguing and I might have enjoyed fictional stories just as well, however, these just do not seem real.
The collection consists of 12 short stories told by people of differing vocations located in several Mexican cities. Among them- a professor, policeman, an engineer, an American journalist, the owner of a restaurant (also American), a young boy, and a plastic surgeon. The common thread is that they all have run-ins with drug dealers or gang members which result in death threats, violence, or some major crime… murder, kidnapping, arson, and theft.
The first story, though somewhat repulsive, is at least original. But from that point on, every story seemed like it was being narrated by the same person… a bland, monotone voiced, somewhat educated, mediocre story teller. Each of the characters relate their story in the exact same way. No lingo, no jargon, no accents, no professional mannerisms, no variety whatsoever! And no emotion. Just the facts. There is literally no character development and very little cultural or descriptive background. And occasionally, in order to move the story along, someone else- a related character- must take over the narrating and explain parts of the plot. This is a common style that works well for novels but does not bode well in short stories.
If this book were analogized with a food, it might equate to celery- not to give celery a bad rap- but it does have minimal taste, is not something you crave, is not filling, and does not make a meal. In other words, if you are looking for substance, my suggestion is to skip this book.
The accolades bestowed on Mexico printed on the back cover give the impression that the book will be a delight to read… and I quote, “ beautiful, funny, terrifying… macabre… irresistibly readable.” None of these adverbs seemed appropriate to me. And there is a stellar recommendation by Paul Harding, 2010 winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The minute I saw that I was suspicious. Paul Harding’s book Tinkers was just as mediocre as this one.
What is happening to literature?
Rated 2 Stars November 2016
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