From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A natural storyteller, Means (The Secret Goldfish
) presents 13 nuanced tales of wanderlust and transgression. Hoboes around a campfire spin elaborate yarns in two of the richest stories, offering just enough confession to keep the others' interest: The Blade finds an improbable friendship between an old geezer and a young junkie, culminating in a requisite blade-to-the-throat story; while The Junction pursues a vagrant who begs food at a farmhouse that is strikingly similar to the home he grew up in. The American landscape is vividly sketched in these tales, traversed by the Bonnie-and-Clyde meets Charles Starkweather team of young bank robbers in Nebraska, and the manipulative con man of Oklahoma. Similarly, the title story details a jaunty pimp's shameless exploitation of a girl with a horrific past, culminating in a grim discovery at Niagara Falls. There's not an off note to be found in Means's prose, and he proves to be remarkably adept at locating the sublime in the unseemly. (June)
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In three previous collections, Means proved himself a master of the short form, earning comparisons to O'Connor and Carver for his tight, energetic sentences. The 13 luminous stories in his fourth collection are just as strong. Here Means articulates the impulsiveness of angst-driven loners, including the homeless who've lost their faith in others and drifters whose only means of survival is their tale, whether true or otherwise. In the title story, a pimp, schooled in the Bible and disguised as a Northern Michigan farmer, tells a client about a girl whose drowning was his fault, and whose father followed her body to Niagara Falls. A group of hoboes swap stories involving knives until one man's silence betrays his refusal to reveal the tale of revenge that brought him to this place. A man assuming the worst for his ailing son wraps up his son's old toys and arranges an early Christmas. Darkly comic and rich in language and drama, Means' cerebral tales are astute, amusing, and companionable. --Jonathan Fullmer