Assorted Fire Events: Stories

David Means, Author Context Books $22 (165p) ISBN 978-1-893956-05-6
Driven by long, majestic sentences, Means's second story collection (after A Quick Kiss of Redemption) 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. A young transient in ""The Grip"" jumps a train, but he's stuck between cars and his only handhold is a small piece of metal. So he braces himself there for an entire, freezing night, hallucinating that his dead mother helps him to maintain his grip. The vagrant semihero of ""The Interruption"" wanders into a straightlaced wedding reception, willing to make a spectacle in order to get some food. The moving title story veers between autobiography and fiction as it informally catalogues fire-related disasters: an adolescent thug burns a dog alive, a pyromaniac torches houses for sheer pleasure. The narrative offers a sensory and mesmerizing experience of fire, expounding on the sound of crackling flames, the look of WWII flamethrowers on film or the ""plot"" of a fire's blaze. Means footnotes this story with coy asides that can be mawkish and semiconfessional: ""This is horrible, tragic fact. It made the Times,"" he says about his aunt who set herself on fire. There are a few more reflective short pieces, such as ""The Woodcutter,"" a portrait of a Vietnam vet whose frustrated desire for territorial conquest drives him to chop wood frantically and then eventually to commit suicide. ""What I Hope For"" is a mood piece in which a couple on vacation eavesdrop on a neighbor. In the assured manner of such unsettling storytellers as Banks or Wolff, Means ushers us toward knowledge with command and verve. 18,000 first printing; 5-city author tour. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Paperback - 165 pages - 978-0-06-085578-9
Paperback - 176 pages - 978-0-15-601354-3
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