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David Means

Author of Hystopia

17+ Works 780 Members 18 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

David Means teaches at Vassar College

Includes the name: David Means

Image credit: By Wes Washington - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28938771

Works by David Means

Associated Works

The Best American Short Stories 2005 (2005) — Contributor — 693 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2013 (2013) — Contributor — 273 copies
The Best American Mystery Stories 2005 (2005) — Contributor — 188 copies
The Best American Mystery Stories 2007 (2007) — Contributor — 184 copies
The Best American Mystery Stories 2001 (2001) — Contributor — 144 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2021 (2021) — Contributor — 124 copies
The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction (2008) — Contributor — 122 copies
McSweeney's Issue 34 (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern) (2010) — Contributor — 110 copies


Common Knowledge



I love short story collections and have read many of them. However, this collection of stories was the worst I’ve ever read. The book contains ten stories, most of which center on grief and loss.

Two major issues I had with the writing was the overly long sentences, that ran on and on and on, seemingly forever. One or two now and then to break the pace is fine, but there were too many in this book. Secondly, the overuse of parenthesis was annoying and irritating. Again, when used sparingly, they are fine and often necessary, but the reader does not need several on the same page.

Based upon the title, “Two Nurses, Smoking,” and some hype surrounding the book, I though all the stories centered around the two nurses swapping stories while on a smoke break. But that was not the case. “Two Nurses, Smoking” was simply the title of the third story in the book. Often, a collection of short stories is titles after one of the stories, but usually either the first or last story, or the strongest story in the collection. That was not the case here. This story was certainly not the strongest. This was a boring story of two nurses swapping stories and then falling in love with each other.

The stories were inane and many made no sense at all. In “Clementine, Carmelita, Dog” we have a story about a dog that becomes separated from his owner and lost in the woods for several days after chasing a rabbit. Eventually, the dog encounters a man who takes him home and becomes his new owner. After a period of time, while out in the woods, the dog picks up the scent of his previous owner and goes to him. OK, what’s the point here?

In “Are You Experienced?” we have a story of a guy who steals money from his uncle and then prattles on and on about it.

“Vows” tells a story of a couple who each cheated on the other one, but later renewed their wedding vows and lived happily ever after until the wife died.

“Lightning Speaks” is a dumb story of two kids just getting high over and over. The story goes nowhere.

“The Red Dot” is a story of a man who drowned while swimming. Ironically his wife was, at one point, scared of water. So scared, she hated taking a bath.

“I Am Andrew Wyeth” tells the story of an artist who has a woman sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“First Encounters” tells the story of a man’s daughter who gets depressed and starts taking drugs after her boyfriend dies in a automobile collision.

“Stopping Distance” is a story of a couple that meet in a bereavement group, date and then get married. I cannot tell you how boring this story was, and it was the longest story of the collection.

Finally, “The Depletion Prompts” is perhaps the most interesting chapter, and is not a story at all, but a list of writing prompts. The prompts are rather detailed and would be useful to a writer stuck for ideas. However, the author (despite including them in the book), says he does not like writing prompts as they restrict the writer to a narrow box in which one is constrained to write the story from the prompt.

I cannot recommend this book at all and am glad I got it for free from my library.
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dwcofer | May 16, 2023 |
Lettura condotta soprattutto per capire dove va la nuova letteratura americana. Scrittura eccellente, capace di virtuosismi dell'osservazione da lontano, dell'introspezione, del dialogo, messa al servizio di storie per lo più violente che raccontano della perdita del sogno americano. Come ha scritto qualcuno (Christian Raimo), "Means rende grazia al creato, attraverso uno stile iperestetico, qualcosa – forse solo il fatto di esseri umani – ci ha dato la possibilità di sentire, vedere, provare un senso di vitale appartenenza per quel che ci circonda".… (more)
d.v. | 2 other reviews | May 16, 2023 |
Well-executed, skillfully conceived stories, many of which were depressing and took me to places I had no interest in going. The subjects include: A man whose failed marriage is somehow embodied in wrathful, creative and near-continuous knocking coming from the apartment above. A young hobo who kills his older traveling mate. A man whose young son is dying of cystic fibrosis. An armored car robbery gone bad. A man burying his father’s body, without further explanation, at a beach. Teenage prostitution and murder. Spontaneous human combustion (SHB). A neighborhood crucifixion as a teen prank. The best one is “The Botch,” a dazzling bank robbery story.

Technical and word wizardry abound here, capturing the moments that make up a compelling slice-of-life. But almost every story is catching someone at the worst moment of their life – or at the end of it.
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Hagelstein | 2 other reviews | May 30, 2021 |
Maybe I’m just losing it, or I’m onto something. The reading mind can perceive things in many different ways, it just depends on how you are set up for what you’re reading. I had been reading the first three stories of this David Means collection, and I was kind of up and down about them. Then I had taken a break for a meal, and watched the last part of a favorite film, A River Runs Through It, the Robert Redford film based on the classic Norman Mclean book. I absolutely adore both the book and the movie, so I was in a great head space when I returned to Instructions for a Funeral again. I started reading the story “The Terminal Artist,” which blew my socks off. Just as I had cried with the intensity of the end of the movie, I found myself crying as I read that story.

I had read the praise and the reviews for this collection beforehand—which had initially forced my hand into ordering the collection— and suddenly it was obvious that all that praise was well deserved. David Means can write some wonderful stories that ring so true. Several of the reviews had dropped names like Proust, Woolf, Flannery O’Connor, Chekhov, Poe, Denis Johnson, Carver, Tobias Wolff, and Richard Ford, and in my new head space, I was in full agreement. Means seemed practically incapable of taking a false step in his stories. Every story is very original and most distinctively David Means.

For the rest of the book, I was impressed by story after story, as they all seemed so spot-on. Who the hell was I as a reader during those first three stories? This is his fifth story collection, and Means loves to slides some sly humor into some of his stories. They also change so much, story to story, always exploring something new with each one. You could find yourself on an FBI stakeout in one, and then in an evolving tale of a fistfight in Sacramento, or learning about a serial-killer, marriage, addiction, death, and wherever else he wants to take you. He always keeps you on your toes as he nimbly shows his creative mind in a pared down style that does so much with so little.

Let me pass on an apt quote from Jonathan Lethem, “David Means’s latest stories floored me. These are little machines for thinking and feeling, made sentences in which the object in the mirror—consciousness—is much closer than it ordinarily appears.”

I read another of his story collections, The Spot, many years ago, but my memory and review of it have been lost in time, but now his much-praised novel, Hystopia, is definitely on my radar screen. Instructions for a Funeral goes from the brutal to the tender both quickly and effortlessly. With these stories you might be reading about organized crime, real estate, or even a serial-killer nurse, but you will always be offered an opportunity to be involved with the people that truly live in these stories. David Means has a great touch when it comes to writing about the small moments of everyone’s life, and it’s those small bits of life that make all the difference … in life and in fiction. Lastly, I say, “Give me more David Means.”
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jphamilton | 2 other reviews | May 14, 2021 |



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