In David Means's new collection, time unfolds in unexpected ways: a single, quiet moment swells with the echoes of a widower's complicated marriage; a dachshund, given a new name and a new life by a new owner, catches the scent of the troubled man who previously abandoned her; young lovers become old; estranged couples return to their vows; and those who have died live on in perpetuity in the memories of those whom they touched.
Means has never shied away from subjects that are hard to tackle; he's an unfailingly compassionate writer given to constantly challenging himself and his readers. Two Nurses, Smoking is Means at his best — intelligent, often funny, always beautiful ... The degree of difficulty here is staggeringly high; writing prompts are rarely interesting to people who aren't writers themselves, and crafting a story from them seems like the tallest of orders. Yet Means does it beautifully, finding beauty in the pain, and somehow making the reader part of the story ... It's a stunning accomplishment in a collection full of them. This is a remarkable book not just about grief, but about the moments of brightness that punctuate it, making it both easier and, somehow, even more painful.
Love does not end when the object of one’s affections disappears. How do we go on? How can we persevere? Such questions sit at the center of this beautiful and complicated book ... He interrupts ...with a series of authorial asides, effectively making the creator a kind of character, or at least an active presence in the narrative ... It’s a terrific device, effectively anticipating the limits of our suspension of disbelief and pushing the story from gimmick to something more profound ... The direct address builds complicity with a reader — a set of shared assumptions that the author will go on to both develop and overturn ... The effect is to remind us of the contrivance of fiction. Paradoxically, this sense of metatextual play, which otherwise might distance us, is what gives Means’ narratives gravitas.