Summary and book reviews of Instructions for a Funeral by David Means

Instructions for a Funeral

Stories

by David Means

Instructions for a Funeral by David Means X
Instructions for a Funeral by David Means
  • Critics' Opinion:

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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2020, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

"One of the most talented writers of short fiction in America." - James Wood, The New Yorker

Following the publication of his widely acclaimed, Man Booker-nominated novel Hystopia, David Means here returns to his signature form: the short story. Thanks to his four previous story collections, Means has won himself an international reputation as one of the most innovative short fiction writers working today: an "established master of the form." (Laura Miller, The Guardian). Instructions for a Funeral - featuring work from The New Yorker, Harper's, The Paris Review, and VICE - finds Means branching out beyond the explorations of violence and trauma with which he is often identified, prominently displaying his sly humor and his inimitable way of telling tales that deliciously wind up to punch the reader in the heart.

With each story Means pushes into new territory, writing with tenderness and compassion about fatherhood, marriage, a homeless brother, the nature of addiction, and the death of a friend at the hands of a serial-killer nurse. Means transmutes a fistfight in Sacramento into a tender, life-long love story; two FBI agents on a stakeout in the 1920s into a tale of predator and prey, paternal urges and loss; a man's funeral instructions into a chronicle of organized crime, real estate ventures, and the destructive force of paranoia.

Means's work has earned him comparisons to Flannery O'Connor, Alice Munro, Sherwood Anderson, Denis Johnson, Edgar Allan Poe, Anton Chekhov, and Raymond Carver but his place in the American literary landscape is fully and originally his own.

CONFESSIONS

THE WORK

I've been writing stories for thirty years now, many published, others not published but trashed, put to bed, dead in the water, so to speak; lost to me, to eternity, or whatever. There's simply no way to distill or describe what's in the stories, except to say I attempt, to say the least, to respect whatever each story seems to want—not only to want to be, but to say in its own way—each one, as far as I can see, an expression of a particular ax I must grind, particular souls in particular situations, and in some cases a voice that needs to say what it says or else (and I feel this, really, I do) it'll be lost forever to the void, the same place where most stories go, forever; the real stories of men and women who lived lives—quiet desperation!—and then died, gone forever into eternity, so to speak. It's a gut feeling, a need to reveal something and to pin it down forever, and it involves a lot of revision, fixing mistakes and covering ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Means approaches his characters' tensions and torments with refined, yet digressive prose. Depicting fights, affairs, illnesses, addictions, deaths and murders, this collection critiques how people remember things and explores why we need stories. For readers who are drawn to the cutting, focused form of short stories and contemporary, unconventional voices in the medium, Instructions for a Funeral is a worthy read...continued

Full Review (669 words).

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(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Means extends the profound empathy of his attention to those who need it most, even if they deserve it least...Instructions for a Funeral is both sweeping and narrow, panoramic and fragmentary, possessed, as Means writes in 'The Ice Committee,' by 'a gloriously full understanding … fractured to shards.' What beauty there is in their jagged gleaming. What pleasure it gives us to gather them up, and to dream of a world made whole.

Vulture
It's always an event when one of the country's best short-story writers - in this case someone who took a break to write a wild, powerful novel (the Man Booker–nominated Hystopia) - returns to the form. Here, in his fifth story collection, [David] Means eases up on the violence and shock to score more intimate gut-punches, plumbing everything from parental estrangement to looming death.

The Millions
From a fistfight in Sacramento to a 1920s FBI stakeout in the midwest, Instructions for a Funeral invites readers on a literary journey with a master of the modern short story.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Means spins intricate, highly textured yarns with great artistry, care, and an acute, empathetic eye. Treasures abound.

Booklist
Starred Review. As in his previous work, Means' protagonists have a lot to confess. But what might feel like rambling or ranting reveals an abundance of hope and heartache in the stories people tell themselves in order to survive.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. In this magnificent book, we find the stories of every one of us: absent and present, dislocated and connected, at the mercy of our history, our narratives.

Author Blurb Joyce Carol Oates
David Means is a master of tense, distilled, quintessentially American prose. Like any artist who has finely honed his talent to its strongest expression he is a brilliant craftsman whose achievement is to appear unstudied, even casual ... Each story by Means which I have read is unlike the others, unexpected and an unnerving delight.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Fallibility of Memory

Throughout his collection of short stories, Instructions for a Funeral, David Means shows the ways in which people's recollections of the past change over time. Learning new information, reconsidering ethical stances and changing self-perceptions contribute to characters tweaking their memories to better fit new narratives about their lives and the lives of those around them. In this way, people's memories can be a product of the narratives they choose, rather than an objectively true recall of events. Psychology provides us with some insight into how memory affects the ways in which people understand the world around them.

Multi store memory modelMemory refers to the structures and processes the brain uses to store and recall information. According to Richard ...

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