A review of
The Secret Goldfish
by David Means
“I don’t want anyone to die in my stories anymore,” begins a story in David Means’s previous collection, Assorted Fire Events. It’s an arresting moment, when Means wipes off the greasepaint and squints in the klieg lights, laying bare his intentions—or his plaintive wish. And it resonates with irony, of course. Human suffering and death are the inescapable facts of existence, he’s telling us; wishing that life were otherwise is as futile as shouting into the wind, or trying to build mountains one spoonful at a time.
In The Secret Goldfish, Means’s new collection, his characters are no better off. An Illinois farmer is relentlessly dogged by lightning, which “speared him in the brow the way you’d poke a shrimp with a cocktail fork.”A young woman driving her Toyota during an icy, windblown night is swept off a bridge. “Michigan Death Trip” (in the spirit of the cult classic Wisconsin Death Trip) enumerates its carnage in a succession of vignettes: a head-on collision between a car and a truck transporting crated cherries produces “an abundance of fruit and blood and sparks spread out across the dark road”; a daredevil kid snowmobiling at night is decapitated by a telephone-pole wire; a guy high on speed breaks a fluorescent light tube against his friend’s face, slicing open his jugular.
But for all Means’s narrative reliance on tragedy, he never indulges in gothic excess. His prose is exquisitely modulated, at once elegiac and dispassionate, alive to both beauty and absurdity in the midst of horrific events.
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