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Assorted Fire Events: Storiesby David Means
Winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Winner 2000 Pushcart Prize
Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
An Esquire Best Book of the Year
Synopses & Reviews
In just a few years David Means has emerged as one of the most distinct voices of his generation, producing superbly generous stories that — like the work of his predecessors Raymond Carver and Alice Munro — push the form to a new level. Bringing together Means?s unforgettable characters and plots in diamond-cutter prose, Assorted Fire Events is a major literary event.
From a married man consummating a hazy summer affair and getting lost in a reverie that explains the "far-away look in his eyes" ("Coitus") to a recently widowed mother who must decide what to do with a video of her honeymoon love-making ("The Widow Predicament"), David Means probes the depths of the human heart. The stories collected here range the American landscape: suburban sprawl leads to disastrous consequences in Pushcart Prize-winning "What They Did"; a Depression-era hobo holds on to a freight train that roars through the desert night as well as his scattered past ("The Grip"); sneaking into a wedding reception, a homeless man forever changes the lives of all present ("The Interruption"); and in "The Railroad Incident," a business executive sheds his shoes for an evening walk straight into the heart of darkness. Everywhere crystalline moments emerge that seem strange yet gritty and remarkably real. Means never fails to find the locus of grace and redemption in the most complex, and sometimes horrifying, situations.
In these stories we find a major talent honing his skills, a gambler willing to push the limits while, at the same time, taking great care in playing his cards. Long anticipated, Assorted Fire Events will surely stand alongside the great story collections of our time. In an age of hype and hyperbole, this is distinctly the real thing: a book that has already garnered the respect and admiration of his peers. David Means is, without a doubt, one of America?s best short story writers.
"Remarkable collection....A book that not only will educate short-story writers on the craft of the story for years to come but can also move present-day readers to surprising tears." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Each story in Assorted Fire Events speaks for itself, has its own voice, and sears while it entrances, going much deeper in situation and character-probing than most stories being published today. Means is an accomplished, skillful, intelligent, strong storyteller and stylist." Stephen Dixon
"Assorted Fire Events is one of the best American collections of the last ten years. Means's stories are harrowing and funny and full-blooded, consistently satisfying in their narrative twists, and lyrical in a way that makes most contemporary literary 'lyricism' sound like greeting cards. This is food for the hungry." Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections
"David Means has an impeccable ear for poetic cadence, and throughout Assorted Fire Events' 12 stories, he conjures men and women whose hearts and minds are roiling with fiery torment." Village Voice Literary Supplement
"Astonishing...reinfuses the genre with Raymond Carver-school skill...Means' mixture of sentences — some snug and others rolling — furnishes his stories with an unmistakably original texture and voice....Assorted Fire Events captures the trying moments of life — the assorted fire events if you will — where pain sears the heart and dupes the mind." Kansas City Star
"I love these stories; upon first reading, one is aware of the brilliant density of the writing, then something happens. The stories fly past the language they are composed of up, into another realm of meaning, illuminating as lamps in dark windows. 'The Reaction' justifies owning the collection, but then every story in Assorted Fire Events is like a separate jewel." Paula Fox
"Despite their contemporary setting, Means' stories have an elemental quality with echoes (some more explicit than others) of Greek myth and tragedy. Like those ancient works, they're not comforting in any obvious way, but to the patient, attentive reader they bring a deep, enriching sense of the gravity of life." Laura Miller, Salon.com
"Driven by long, majestic sentences, Means's second story collection explores the oft-misguided ways in which desperate people make contact with each other or with themselves, giving shape to primal desires in a perpetually surprising manner....In the assured manner of such unsettling storytellers as Banks or Wolff, Means ushers us toward knowledge with command and verve." Publishers Weekly
"[A]n astonishing collection. Each story possesses the density of detail, the social sweep and force of a realist novel. What most situates Assorted Fire Events within the realm of greatness (and there is no lesser word for the achievement here) is Means' ability to develop dazzing, skillful narratives that enrich and deepen stories of lives that matter....These stories are never less than beautiful, rich in language, feeling and sensibility." San Francisco Chronicle
"To write fiction of such serious intent without coming off as moralizing takes both philosophical sophistication and stylistic audacity, and Means has these qualities to spare. There's not a cheap emotion or a predictable conclusion to be found in Assorted Fire Events....He has an uncompromising, humane vision that makes these stringent, difficult stories almost unaccountably lovely." Maria Russo, The New York Times Book Review
"Incidents that might seem melodramatic in the hands of another writer lead instead to crystalline reflections on the limits of self-knowledge and the ways in which our past fails to define us. What most interests the author, perhaps, is potential: his fractured story lines, which often chart several paths of narrative action, are successful primarily because he knows how to get at what he calls 'our own insatiable desire for another time and place.'" The New Yorker
"These stories are so richly textured you can practically feel them with your fingertips as you read them. With elegant skill, Means creates worlds of longing and tragedy and then illuminates them gently, one corner at a time." Aimee Bender
Adept and assured, David Means's stories are as perceptive as they are provocative, skillfully and startlingly sounding the depths of human emotion.
In Assorted Fire Events we find a major talent honing his skills, a gambler willing to push the limits while, at the same time, taking great care in playing his cards.
A married man carries on an affair with a neighbor, and suddenly his mind whisks him back to his brother's drowning. A recently widowed mother must decide what to do with a video of her honeymoon love-making.
A distraught businessman goes to the railroad tracks to find some sort of comfort and perhaps peace of mind, but finds the exact opposite in a group of young, miscreant men. Sneaking into a wedding reception, a homeless man forever changes the lives of all present. Suburban sprawl leads to disastrous consequences in the Pushcart Prize-winning "What They Did."
In prose that radiates in every direction, Assorted Fire Events exposes the human condition and explores the fragility of those things that we most cherish, establishing David Means as a tremendous new presence in contemporary American literature.
About the Author
David Means is the author of A Quick Kiss of Redemption and Other Stories. His work has appeared in Harper's, Esquire, the Paris Review, and many other publications. He lives in Nyack, New York, and currently teaches at Vassar College.
Table of Contents
Railroad incident, August 1995 — Coitus — What they did — Sleeping bear lament — The reaction — The grip — What I hope for — The interruption — The widow predicament — Tahorah — The gesture hunter — Assorted fire events — The woodcutter.
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