Synopses & Reviews
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 has 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.
"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
GIST: A splendid, and bleak, short story collection from a gifted young writer. We sincerely love this book, and heartily recommend it to all fans of Russell Banks. UPSHOT: Means's world is populated by beaten people, characters whose luck is so bad it's damn near Russian. The very best stories here are Railroad Incident, 1995, Coitus, and the title story. In them, as in the rest of the book, theres a grim, winter-landscape-type elegance (in the boxed-in silence of the car he thought of Tom, his going down, the canoe tipping, the hard coldness of the water forcing his won breaths short). These are stories about loneliness, about the difficulty of human connections its certainly worth noting that the most intense relationships these characters seem to have are with the dead and yet, wonder of wonders, they remain, above all else, generous, redemptive, and hopeful. Adrienne Miller, Esquire
"[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
"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
"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
Looking out into the "long blank stare" of the desert night, Jim holds on as the freight train bears down on the Mojave. His mind races, wondering how long his grip will last, how long he will survive this ride or his hobo's existence. In this new collection, David Means takes readers inside his characters, their philosophies, and the moment when their lives take an irreparable turn toward fate: a doctor in a moral quandary, a yuppie in trouble, a widow caught between loss and survival.
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.