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by Josh Barkan


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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 amidst 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101906293
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/24/2017
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Josh Barkan's fiction has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, and the Lightship International Short Story Prize. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, he received his MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

A two-time Audie Award winner, veteran actor Robert Fass is equally at home in a wide variety of styles, genres, characters, and dialects. He has earned multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for his narration of Francisco Goldman's novel Say Her Name.

Read an Excerpt


How the hell “El Chapo” Guzmán chose my restaurant to come into, I’ll never know. It was just like the stunt he’s done in a few other cities—Nuevo León and Culiacán. Guzmán—“Shorty”—it was him, with all his narco clothing. He had on a baseball cap with some of that digitalized camouflage the U.S. Army invented for Iraq, and a beige down parka. It was one of those cold days in June, after the rainy season has started, and the most badass narco in the country must have felt just a touch of a chill. Crazy! In my restaurant. With fifteen bodyguards swarming around him. The guards came in first. They all had AK‑47s swinging in their arms. They came in fast and polite, rushing past the maître d’. The leader of the guards, a tall guy with a neatly trimmed thin mustache and a diamond earring, swooped into the center of the dining room and yelled out, “The Boss will be coming soon. Everyone give us your purses and cell phones and continue with your meal. Nobody leaves before The Boss is done. If you cooperate, everything will be fine. You’ll get your purses and phones returned when The Boss is done. Leave your check. The Boss will pay for your meal.”

I knew Shorty was short, of course, but when he came in, it was surprising to see just how small the biggest drug kingpin was. He walked in quickly, like he knew where he was going. He turned to the first table, to the left, and introduced himself. He removed his cap and said in polite Spanish, “Hello, my name is El Chapo Guzmán. Nice to meet you.” He smiled and extended his hand to shake with one of the customers, an old man in a blue blazer who, fortunately, had the presence of mind to shake back. The customer looked like he’d just seen a ghost.

Guzmán went from table to table shaking hands like a politician asking for votes of approval. But the way he smiled, with a permanent grin and his eyes a little too focused on the clients, he seemed to be saying: You will like me! I’m not so fucking bad, right? After he reached the last table, he chuckled, cracking himself up. He was the most badass jokester in the world. He was the biggest gentleman, extending his hand of courtesy to every diner, after he’d killed hundreds.

Everyone in Mexico knows about him: how he married yet another young woman, some beauty queen, and how she had twins in a hospital in Los Angeles. How the guy controls all the cocaine, pot, and most of the meth and heroin that’s going into the U.S. I’ve only been in Mexico two years, building the restaurant up, but anyone who’s spent time down here knows the names of all these narcos like they’re the heroes and devils of the soap operas that are on all day in every housewife’s home and in every cantina.

So it didn’t take a genius to know the guy who’d just walked into my restaurant was capable of killing me and every one of my clients, and I was the head chef.

EL CHAPO ASKED to be escorted to a private room, in back, where we sometimes have lunches for important business people. My restaurant is in the neighborhood of Polanco, on the border with the most expensive neighborhood of Las Lomas, where all the international banks are located. The food in my restaurant is a mix of French with new American cuisine—meaning anything is OK, fusion with Asian touches, wasabi with bourbon crab, pork with chanterelle mushrooms in a ginger cream sauce with Beluga caviar sprinkled on top, arugula salad with truffle shavings and Cointreau sauce.

I wake up early in the morning and go to the San Juan market, in the center of Mexico City, to buy the freshest produce I can find. The market looks typical, at first, in a wide concrete warehouse, but the stalls are full of the latest vegetables trucked in pickups from small farmers, and there are even a few Korean stands where you can find Asian vegetables that are less common in Mexico City. Fusion cooking has been the rage in the U.S. for thirty years, but in Mexico it’s a new thing, so I’ve received more attention than a comparable chef would get in the U.S. That’s one of the reasons I came to Mexico. A friend of mine, who was living in Mexico, came into a restaurant where I was the head chef in Pittsburgh, he tasted some cured duck breast I was preserving in the cellar of the restaurant, he slurped up the homemade vinegars we were using in the salad dressings and to pickle baby carrots and peas, and he told me I could be an instant hit in Mexico City.

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