“…a series of gently askew tales at once utterly odd and oddly humane. Using language as kinetic and inventive as his playful yet pointed plots, Goldfaden is sure to delight readers eager to embark on a refreshingly original literary adventure.
“Like his ardent, tilted characters, Josh Goldfaden explores the disconnect between empirical evidence and our true understanding. Why doesn’t studying something teach us anything? His cast of characters includes pirates and writers and many folks in between and their labyrinthine investigations are chronicled with a sharp satirist’s eye. Here is a talented writer at the bright edge of his career.”
—Ron Carlson, author of A Kind of Flying and Five Skies
“Swift, surprising, funny, and in the end unexpectedly moving. Like the work of George Saunders, these stories seem to take place in a world right next door to our own, a world that’s brighter, stranger, bolder than ours. I was sorry to see this book end.”
—Kevin Canty, author of Winslow in Love and Honeymoon and Other Stories
“Sexy and syncopated, the stories in Human Resources hearken the twin pleasures of jazz: a sense of surprise and the weight of inevitability. In turns ironic, improvisational and knowing, Josh Goldfaden’s stories are laced with play and passion, racing across the page with melodic humor and a soulful harmony. He’s the Thelonious Monk of fiction.”
—Adam Johnson, author of Emporium and Parasites Like Us
“The seven far-out stories in Goldfaden’s impressive debut explore the absurd without giving in to it. The first story, “The Veronese Circle,” encapsulates a four-week group tour from Verona to Istanbul (and back) by six young writers who paid thousands of dollars to be guided by a Romeo and Juliet-quoting professor and his wife. “Documentary” imagines how a young filmmaker, Samantha, will mature emotionally (and what may come of her relationship with her rising star painter boyfriend) while filming hours and hours of women giving birth. “Looking at Animals” delves into the inner life of another kind of documentary photographer: after 30 years of photographing wild animals around the globe for National Geographic , Raymond retires and begins an acute interest in the goings-on of his neighbors. Admirably, Goldfaden roams widely and erratically, from surfers living on an exclusive beachfront (“Maryville, California, Pop. 7”) to a bizarre set of contemporary pirates who give up robbing yachts to join a pirate-busting agency (“Nautical Intervention”). Goldfaden is an undeniable talent.”
—Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
In the opening story of Josh Goldfaden’s “Human Resources,” the reader is introduced to a traveling writers’ colony known to its members as The Veronese Circle. The colony is chock full of half-hearted suicide attempts, never-to-be-written masterpieces, mindless sexual intrigues, and, in general, so many biting caricatures of the creative lifestyle that it would leave even the most grounded artist laughing in self-defense. At the center of this story is a young au pair, Ted. Fresh out of college and struggling for a sense of purpose, Ted sits sweating on a train platform in Spain while yet another writer wanders off in a haze of her own melancholy. As the rest wait for her return, some composing Pindaric odes in her absence, Ted flips through a career book entitled “After College… What?” which tells him, “In Man’s long process of development, we have up with things to do which we call ‘occupations,’ and without them we would be miserable, for man is an active creature.” In this way, Goldfaden begins his book-long exploration of human beings and their search for meaning through their various functions and talents — and while any themed collection runs the risk of belaboring its theme, Goldfaden avoids this fate with his exuberant invention and wit.The characters in these eight stories include an overtheatrical pirate, a team of disorder destroyers, and animal tracking expert, and a homicidal golden retriever named Don Carlos. These stories are never unwilling to surprise. They slip between the real and the unreal seamlessly and are often as funny as they are compassionate and resonant.
In the story, “Documentary,” a young documentary filmaker finds herself involved with a failed painter of landscapes, who takes up depicting scenes of horrific, though lively, sexual episodes. A reader might find himself or herself surprised that a story that contains the painting title “fish sprouts dick, nun on knees sucks the dick, family of bears watches with opera glasses” is also one of the most tender and poignant in the collection. However, in this book, that type of juxtaposition is common. Goldfaden’s view seems to be that, in terms of human beings and their pursuit of meaning, things are only ever as serious as they are ridiculous. From reading these stories, it even seems that there might be more truth in the ridiculous than some would care to admit. As absurd as Goldfaden’s characters are, their true absurdity comes from what they reflect from the world around us. Their actions seem as unavoidable and as preposterous as our own mistakes.
Goldfaden’s work is swift, energetic, and invigorating. Far from being heavy and pessimistic, as is often in vogue, his satire is sharp and affirming.
—Seth Fried, Mid-American Review
Human Resources is the first collection of short stories by Josh Goldfaden. Goldfaden used alternating satire and sincerity to examine various attempts at meaning and connection among the people of his stories, from a spoiled circle of pompous writers to discontent girlfriends of sell-out artists, and a modern-day clan of pirates to a well-meaning pair of mutually stalking neighbors. In the first story alone, Goldfaden pokes fun at self-congratulating writers — and their search to capture the meaning of life in a rhyming couplet about the moon or the moral struggles of flapjacks — through the eyes of a confused, recently-graduated au pair who finds more answers than any of these ‘poets.’ Goldfaden’s prose manages to be profound without the pretense, heart-felt without being saccharine or melodramatic, and humorous without resorting to slap-stick or one-liners. His knack for subtlety is impressive, and his stories (although whimsical and very readable) do not wrap up in overly neat packages claiming to have the key to happiness. Instead, each of his main characters stumbles through his or her life, gaining small clues which point toward a greater understanding of life while leaving room for more growth and folly.I particularly appreciate the satirical nature of this highly entertaining book; pretense is ripped to shreds with vibrant, humorous strokes, pointing out how lost most of his characters are. While many of the main characters look to answer a great question in their lives, their moments of revelation do not answer these questions, but show that these are not the right questions to be asking. His characters do not find the resolution they were seeking, but rather they learn a better way of searching for it. This recurring theme could have become formulaic or ridiculous in the hands of a lesser writer, but Goldfaden manages to keep his stories unique and surprising without sacrificing sincerity or the connectivity of the collected work. Human Resources makes a great read in one marathon sitting or broken in convenient, single-story doses.
Review by Julie Franks, Indigo Editing, LLC
“Josh Goldfaden’s debut book, Human Resources is an often hilarious, perfectly crafted, spot-on collection of inventive and moving stories which include pirates, litter removal specialists, Bruce Springsteen, and an intelligent fern. They’re some of the best stories I’ve read in years.”
—Named a “Powell’s Staff Pick” for Powells.com