From the Man Booker-nominated David Means comes a new collection of stories delving into fatherhood, marriage, a homeless brother, the nature of addiction, and the death of a friend at the hands of a serial-killer nurse.
... [an] expert collection ... Mr. Means’s pared-back stories attempt to distill memory to its essence so that it recaptures the sensation of immediacy. The best scenes possess a high-definition exactitude that makes them seem like flash photographs of the soul.
Means, like Proust or Woolf or Munro, is a time artist ... What I had first taken for dislike was in truth a sort of altitude sickness. Once acclimatized, I recognized that I was having an encounter with radical originality, and that understanding this work on its own complicated, rewarding terms would mean rethinking what a story could be ... Means extends the profound empathy of his attention to those who need it most, even if they deserve it least, which must be why he writes so often about adulterers, criminals and teenagers ... Like Flannery O’Connor, Means senses that beneath every act of violence there pulses a vein of grace ... his commitment to exploring its implications is the rock on which his writerly project is built ... Means’s recursive, iterative approach links individual stories to one another within a given book and connects each book to the rest ... this is Means’s most self-reflective and self-reflexive book to date ... both sweeping and narrow, panoramic and fragmentary, possessed ... What pleasure it gives us to gather them up, and to dream of a world made whole.
The implication is that a linear mode of telling would be insufficient, that such a telling would not only be banal but would risk missing the point. So, in a typical Means story, scrambling narrative time and shifting point of view—basic techniques for any writer—are elevated to higher principles ... A strange thing about Means’s fiction is the way it stimulates skepticism in the reader. I often found myself resisting the stories in Instructions for a Funeral ... Elaborate syntax leaves the end of a sentence, half a page or even a page distant from its start, in a state of queasy grammatical limbo that sends you back picking through stacked clauses (and nested parentheses) looking for verbs, marveling at how he got you from here to there, or shaking your head that he would even try ... The untidiness of his compulsive narrative layering has made him one of the most fascinating and confounding American fiction writers of the past few decades ... The best of them have a mythic quality, the kind achieved by rearranging elements worn to the point of cliché and making them strange once again ... his mastery of tone in each mode is the same.