Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

"Assorted Fire Events" by David Means (Fourth Estate, 2003)

Since hearing his Goldfish story I've been looking for books by him. It was worth the wait. This guy can write. Not much dialog though. Deaths figure in many of the stories. He zooms in on action.

[he] did a drop-kick with the toe of his Doc Martens - steel-reinforced soles of some kind of rubber that was OIL FAT ACID PETROL ALKALI RESISTANT and stood up to the toughest abrasions and work conditions, made in England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. His kick made the hard, solid sound of castanets snapping between the fiingers of a flamenco dancer as the bones of the man's chin - a dignified sharp chin at that - did a wish-bone break. (p.13)

but he's not a 'here and now' writer. He's happy to start a story with a journalistic info-dump

This takes place on a Wednesday afternoon on the tenth of July on a cooler than usual day of a long dry hot summer along the Eastern Seaboard during coitus between Bob Sampson and Ellen Davison-Simms
(start of "Coitus")

His endings are open - sometime formally so

  • Four lines before the end of "The Interruption" there's a footnote marker. The footnote's a page long - an alternative story ending.
  • In "Tahorah" the B story takes over once we've fast-forwarded to the main character's death.

What about Means himself?

  • In "Sleeping Bear Lament" the narrator's called Means.
  • The footnotes of Assorted Fire Events could be his.
  • Perhaps the 1.5 page "What I hope for" near the middle of the book is his. It begins "I don't want anyone to die in my stories anymore. From here on out it has to be a glorious life" But people keep dying. - usually the main character.

The characters hoard special moments - not so much epiphanies (though sometimes dying people figure), more often mundane events, an everyday substitute for the sacred, for communion - with Angela on the end of the dock idly fishing, or "That one single moment in the yard reclining against the grass watching his mother" (p.72), or a hallucination of "Mom. Mom. Mom" (p.79) or "that strange sensation one gets looking from a main street down a side street, a street leading down to the river, the haze of light as it bleeds from the water, the close proximity of the dusty brick walls, the loneliness that such side streets sing" (p.147). Adlestrop moments - an ambered scene frozen in time that contrasts with the narrative that sways forwards and back. There are flashforwards and many flashbacks - on p.92 there's a page-long passage in parentheses, a flashback inside a flashback. He returns to events as if they were held in tweezers and rotated to show new details.

The pieces are mostly 3rd person. That and the measured prose gives an essay feel to some pieces, "Assorted Fire Events" especially. There are few images, but he can produce them - "the groom with his frank, round face that seemed ... to need breaking in, like a new baseball glove" (p.86).

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