cover image Instructions for a Funeral

Instructions for a Funeral

David Means. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-27981-3

For 30 years, Means (Hystopia) has examined the ways in which violence embeds trauma that warps the American character. This superb new collection covers similar geographic, characterological, and thematic ground, yet finds Means at his most compassionate and mischievous. In the title story, a man directs every last detail of his own send-off (“Please tilt the coffin slightly toward the room so that a view of my body is unavoidable.”) in a letter that doubles as a tale of betrayal foretold. Often, stories contain told tales, creating an aura of oral history. In the wonderfully digressive “The Ice Committee,” a Vietnam vet tries to tell a story he’s already told to a man who’s already heard it, about a story he once told someone else. In the gripping “El Morro,” a dreamer holds two women captive from northern California to New Mexico with his ceaseless mania. Characters in “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950” and “The Tree Line, Kansas, 1934” interrogate explosions of violence with the attention to detail of the obsessed. What Means writes about his dying father in the autofictional “Confessions” aptly describes his own distinct style of storytelling: “He is consumed in the vortex of the moment.” Means spins intricate, highly textured yarns with great artistry, care, and an acute, empathetic eye. Treasures abound. (Mar.)