The Secret Goldfish by David Means

Take a Michigan death trip
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The Independent Culture

David Means has a reputation for violence. His last short-story collection, Assorted Fire Events, piled the bodies high. Although his latest volume has a quirky-cute title, the survival rate of its characters is similarly low.

David Means has a reputation for violence. His last short-story collection, Assorted Fire Events, piled the bodies high. Although his latest volume has a quirky-cute title, the survival rate of its characters is similarly low.

Most of the tales in The Secret Goldfish circle around Means's native Michigan, keeping his protagonists within a tight circumference of towns. Events from one story are glancingly referred to in others, crushing the characters beneath the combined weight of their doomy portents. Means inflicts violence on his storytelling too: the truncated paragraphs of "Michigan Death Trip" (sample headings: "Guy Wires", "Comet Tail", "Underdressed") each dispatch another unfortunate; "Counterparts" is the A-Z of a guilty love affair, the entries against some letters only a line long.

Reading this is a more uplifting experience than you might suppose - the prose is never less than beautiful, the images strangely tender - but Means is rarely merciful. Only the goldfish clings on in hope of a happy ending.

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