Best Worst American

Juan Martinez  - published February 2017

trade paper · 200 pages · $16 · 9781618731241 | ebook · 9781618731258

Imaginary countries. Real countries. The best and worst of both in short, cutting, refreshing stories.

Winner of the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction (video)
Chicago Review of Books Best Fiction of 2017

Read an Interview: The Rumpus

These are the best Americans, the worst Americans. In these stories (these cities, these people) there are labyrinths, rivers, wildernesses. Voices sound slightly different than expected. There’s humor, but it’s going to hurt.

In “On Paradise,” a petshop manager flies with his cat to Las Vegas to meet his long-lost mother and grandmother, only to find that the women look exactly like they did forty years before. In “The Spooky Japanese Girl is There For You,” the spooky Japanese girl (a ghost) is there for you, then she is not.

These refreshing and invigorating stories of displacement, exile, and identity, of men who find themselves confused by the presence or absence of extraordinary women, jump up, demand to be read, and send the reader back to the earth changed: reminded from these short stories how big the world is.

Nate Corddry read “Customer Service at the Karaoke Don Quixote” on Selected Shorts.
Cristin Milioti read “Best Worst American” on Selected Shorts.


Supermarkets, Capes, and Secret Societies: Vol. 1 Brooklyn

New City Lit Interview: Obsessed with the Impossible


Research Notes on Necessary Fiction.

Reviews & Praise for Juan Martinez’s stories:

“Martinez offers two dozen short stories driven by a provocative sense of estrangement, suspense, and subtle, absurd humor, delivering truly new ways to read the world.”

“In his longest and best stories, Martinez mines both the small details and the large absurdities of life to show us our own strange world in a new way.”
— Lincoln Michel, New York Times Book Review

“What a short story collection! Martinez takes us across the country (and possible countries) in these brisk tales that range from sci-fi and horror to realism and metafiction.” —Adam Morgan, “The Best Fiction Books of 2017 So Far,” Chicago Review of Books

Best Worst American will draw in readers looking for a hit of everything they never knew they wanted, whether it’s whimsical reflections on whether dolphins are bigger jerks, in the grand scheme, than the lead singers of rock bands, depictions of the romantic failures of professional lawn mowers, or even rants on the rarely-considered concept of hobbledehoydom.
“Entering Martinez’s sphere of influence with optimism: you will emerge changed by his imagination, ready to see the world in a different light.”
— A. M. Dellamonica,

“Weirdness builds upon delectable weirdness throughout the whole book.”
— Nisi Shawl, Seattle Review of Books

“In a podcast conversation about this book’s title story, Israeli writer Etgar Keret praises the suspense Martinez builds by packing scenes with high emotion while withholding information from the reader. This disorienting energy infuses many of the two-dozen short stories collected here, including “Roadblock,” which opens with a pyromaniac aunt and a series of suspicious airplane accidents. Martinez parlays this odd sense of estrangement and tension into subtle, absurd humor. In “Well Tended,” the narrator finds himself caring for a missing neighbor’s houseplants, and he winds up alone in a room with them, watering can in hand, with the ridiculous sensation of being ignored by the plants. Other stories are more bluntly funny, like “Your Significant Other’s Kitten Poster,” which deciphers the contents of innocuous wall hangings and closes with a hilariously violent encounter with a professor in a pool hall. Throughout, Martinez reimagines urban landscapes like Orlando as hellish and spectacular, “lakes afire with reflected light,” and the “aggressively ethnic streets of Culver City.” In his idiosyncratic approach to fiction, Martinez delivers truly new ways to read the world.”

“Juan Martinez’s Best Worst American is a set of subtly connected, hilariously smart stories that present a chaotic, absurd, yet strikingly familiar world.”
The Arkansas International

“A master of the absurd who serves up contemporary American life in rare, blistering slices.”
— Kelly Link, Get in Trouble

“Twenty-four semiexistential short stories that have appeared in the likes of McSweeney’s and Selected Shorts from Colombia-born writer Martinez. The author has an interesting way of injecting absurdity into everyday life and humor into the phantasmagorical in this wide-ranging, mostly engaging collection of tall tales. . . . there are also occasional moments of grace. . . . Some are just flat-out funny. . . . Martinez even makes the frightening funny. . . . promising debut collection of short stories, some unique in their execution.”
Kirkus Reviews

“These 24 wide-ranging stories are the gut-punch kind: intense, innovative tales that skew your vision for the rest of the day. Martinez writes with a sharp eye and a sharp tongue, and his characters — often alone and unloved, often haunted — are worthy observers of both the horrors and wonders of this world.”
Rebecca Makkai, Music for Wartime

“I feel sure that some smart and appreciative person will praise Juan Martinez for his ‘skewed vision,’ but Martinez’s view of the world is startlingly clear. It’s just that the rest of us haven’t caught up yet. Deep and comic and deeply comic, his is a collection of wonders for any human to enjoy.”—Jack Pendarvis

“Juan Martinez’s Best Worst American is filled with droll, cunning, funny, and formally innovative stories that fall somewhere between stand-up comedy and literary fiction. These excellent works mark him as a writer both to read and watch.”
— Tom Bissell

“A little out of the ordinary…. He takes this very unnatural environment and changes it into a landscape.”
— Hannah Tinti

“I loved it.”
— Etgar Keret

Table of Contents

Strangers on Vacation: Snapshots
Machulín In L.A.
On Paradise
Domokun in Fremont
The Women Who Talk To Themselves
Customer Service at the Karaoke Don Quixote
Your Significant Other’s Kitten Poster
Well Tended
Souvenirs from Ganymede
The Coca-Cola Executive in the Zapatoca Outhouse
Correspondences between the Lower World and Old Men in Pinstripe Suits
The Lead Singer Is Distracting Me
Liner Notes for Renegade, the Opening Sequence
My Sister’s Knees
The Spooky Japanese Girl Is There For You
Big Wheel, Boiling Hot
After The End Of The World: A Capsule Review
Forsaken, the Crew Awaited News from the People Below
Best Worst American

About the Author

Juan Martinez was born in Bucaramanga, Colombia, and has since lived in Orlando, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada. He now lives in Chicago with his wife, the writer Sarah Kokernot, and their son and two cats. He’s an assistant professor at Northwestern University. His work and has appeared in various literary journals and anthologies, including Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Ecotone, Huizache, TriQuarterly, Conjunctions, the Cossack Review, the Santa Monica Review, National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts, Norton’s Sudden Fiction Latino, and elsewhere. Visit and say hi at