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Assorted Fire Events: Stories Paperback – October 2, 2012


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A bleak inevitability pervades David Means's splendid collection of stories. If the weather's not cold in Assorted Fire Events--which it usually is--then there's an icy fist squeezing someone's heart. In the melancholy "Coitus," for instance, the protagonist, while making illicit afternoon love with a woman who is not his wife, relives the circumstances of his brother's death by drowning in a frigid Michigan river. In "Tahorah," a ravaged old trucker with a balloon pump nestled next to his heart lies helpless in the CCU as his fury mounts at the noisy, foreign-language laments going on out in the hallway. But one of the pleasures of these tough stories comes in unexpected flashes of tenderness or redemption. Sitting shiva for his daughter, a man sees his estranged brother laughing--and rather than erupting into predictable indignation, he is reminded of a treasured shared childhood.

Means explores the fateful intersection where disparate lives touch and thereafter are never the same. In admirably efficient and elegant prose, he weaves a story of an angry, failing pipe supplier celebrating the second marriage of his wife's best friend to a business rival. Sucking down scotches, he thinks the groom needs "breaking in, like a new baseball glove. Someone should pour neat's-foot oil onto it and mash a fist around, grind it right in--get the rich freshness, that silver-spoon suck, out of those cheeks." Into this bitter musing stumbles a homeless man in search of a handout, and then the story ricochets forward in time to the aftermath of the encounter, a ruptured spleen, and inevitable divorce. In the space of a few pages entire lives are revealed.

Railroads figure in several tales--a mournful distant whistle, a bygone hobo culture, and the modern equivalent where the rail-beds and switching yards on the fringes of towns attract the homeless and the hapless. In the title piece, annotated incidents of arson and immolation, some real, some fiction, are strung together into a compelling album of calamity. Fierce and complex, illuminated by compassion, these are stories from the bitter edges of experience. --Victoria Jenkins --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865478872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865478879
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Means, an internationally acclaimed fiction writer, was born and raised in Michigan. His second collection of stories, ASSORTED FIRE EVENTS, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and earned a National Book Critics Circle nomination. His third book, THE SECRET GOLDFISH, received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story prize. His fourth book, THE SPOT, was selected as a 2010 Notable Book by The New York Times, and won an O. Henry Prize. His books have been translated into eight language. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and numerous other publications.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
These are beautiful and original stories. They show philosophical and religious depth--so are not to be read lightly. They lead the reader to personal reflections on the meaning of life. At points Means made me think of Thomas Wolfe--then I thought they really are the work of an American original Franz Kafka. It's about time! Is that possible in this culture?
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
David Means's work first came to my attention in Harpers Magazine. It was clear from the work I saw there that he was a force to be reckoned with, but I had no idea what proportions this impression would take on! I didn't know about the rest of his stories, the best of them having appeared elsewhere. I was very impressed, especially by the title story. An amazing achievement in belle lettres. If you consider yourself a reader of literature, David Means is a must. He is a master of the short story, the likes of which having not appeared in a long, long time; maybe not since Faulkner.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By mike p. on October 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A very good compilation of stories. Mr. Means seems to have a particularly acute perception of the downtrodden and the seamier episodes of life. The author seems to be at his best--when he describes (in graphically illustrative language) the most despicable of scenarios. I like this book--because I like the grittier side of life. This author is very adept at capturing these dark moments.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"Wow I wish I could write like this guy!" This phrase must be on the lips of every fine writer practicing his/her craft today. David Means is a miracle man - short stories that feel like novels, so well are they developed and loaded. Yet none is more than 20 pages. And the subjects he chooses to make fictions.....this man has one of the richest imaginations in the business. e is totally unafraid of any subject that others may avoid as being demeaning, or too tough, or so bizarre that noone would be interested. A man's description of a life as a drifter all focused on the way he holds on to moving trains (The Grip), or a man who obsesses on Gestures observed and sought out. The disparity between the rich and the poor, the gnarly conditions of dwelling as a misfit. He plumbs the bottom of the world barrel for characters we'd never think to think about, much less care about and finds reason for molding stories that defy our ability to put them down. For this reader, David Means has created a series of String Quartets - the first subject melody may seem simple but the expositions and variations and permutations are like galaxies we've never known. I think this man is a genius. Haven't been this excited about a writer in a while. Dare it, do it, revel in it. But buy this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mark Town on September 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is tough stuff. Not for the uninitiated. Life is indeed cruel and people can be nasty beyond what we care to think about. I get it - Means wants us to see all of this head on. And he is skilled, even artful. Despite the relentless bleakness of these stories, and they are indeed jarringly, intrusively dark, and perhaps honest to how cruelty happens, somehow they still skim on the surface rather than getting below for causes, motivation and the illumunation of character. Dark is not always deep and light is not always shallow. Something valuable is missing here.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eric Lundgren on June 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
As the other reviews here suggest, Means is a wonderful lyricist and handles language with admirable nuance and grace. The best pieces here -- such as the Chekhovian "The Interruption," which features the unlikely intrusion of a hobo on a Hilton wedding reception -- wed sly social commentary and convincing inner monologues of desperate people. Means also writes well about regret:"The Reaction," where a neighbor's move, and other images of departure, lead into a doctor's mourning for the figurative loss of his daughter, and the lovely "Widow Predicament," in which a homemade sex tape is an instrument of mourning for a more literal loss, stand out here. My only reservation with this collection is its overreliance on catastrophe and gore; violent deaths seem to be added to each story like exclamation points, sometimes necessary, sometimes not. I for one would like to see Means apply his considerable narrative skills to other, quieter, but equally significant "events."
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Format: Paperback
The sheer scope of a novel allows authors to develop plots and craft three dimensional characters that can stimulate readers; the short story writer, denied the luxury of length, needs to be an exquisite artist to achieve audience engagement: David Means embodies this excellence in an astounding first collection of stories.

The title of this work, Assorted Fire Events, alludes to one of the pieces contained, although it can serve as a characterisation of the work as a whole, as many of the stories deal with those significant events in life, often destructive and dramatic, that define who we at that time, and, whatever our intensions, continue to intrude on our existence long after their occurrence. This sense of being imprisoned by the past is most effectively articulated in "Coitus" and "Sleeping Bear Lament", where characters engaged in everyday activities are suddenly hit by memories of traumatic events. In "Coitus" Means' skilful writing is able to establish from the onset a profound sense of unease even before we know anything of the characters or their situation, as he depicts a sex scene with factual detachment. Whilst the initial thought is of a relationship in decline, as the parties' robotic motions deprive the act of any intimacy, Means shows that it is the male characters guilt over two separate events, a past bereavement and betrayal, that leads to the sense of disengagement, although, with Means' subtle writing, the sense of a relationship doomed can be inferred. In the confines of this short piece the reader's curiosity can not be totally satisfied, as a tidy resolution is not forthcoming, but it is a testament to Means' abilities that in the space of 14 pages, the reader is stimulated to trace the permutations of the tale beyond the printed page.
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