The Spot book review

About 10 years ago, book marketers decided that short stories should be published as ‘linked collections’

Book review, Time In
David Means

Faber & Faber

About 10 years ago, book marketers decided that short stories should be published as ‘linked collections’: though discrete, each tale had to take place in the same region, feature the same characters or share a common theme.

At its best, this link can be a central idea that the author approaches from a variety of angles. At its worst, concept collections can start to feel like marketing at its silliest (Lara Vapnyar’s recipe-studded Broccoli and Other Tales of Food comes to mind).

Taking linked stories to a new extreme, Means has titled his newest book The Spot. Each story features a spot. Literally. A spot can be the space between a broken leg and its cast, or the place in a lake where a city draws its water supply. Using nothing more than good old-fashioned storytelling craft, Means transforms these simple locations into places ‘where the future vanishes’, or where people are ‘devoured by darkness and then spat out’. The whole thing feels a little postmodern: where the link should bring familiarity, his adds complex meaning and uncertainty.

As with Means’s previous collections, Assorted Fire Events and The Secret Goldfish, this book is dark, deep and dangerous. The author’s technical authority continues to astonish. He’ll switch point of view mid-story or examine the act of storytelling while telling a tale you actually want to read. His most typical pieces, at once shadowy and focused, feature bleak Midwestern violence: the crucifixion of a high-school boy, or the murder of a farmer by a lady of the night. Others bend time until it becomes almost as complex as the characters themselves.

His weakest story (‘The Knocking’) relies too overtly on Rick Moody’s gorgeous, extended rants. His strongest (‘Reading Chekhov’) surprises with its abrupt shift into slow, lingering grace – all beauty and longing, little structure or pyrotechnics. Overall, Means’s work is so virtuosic that one thing feels clear: the only link needed is David Means himself.

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