Secret Goldfish

Overview

Readers familiar with David Means' electrifying work in the Los Angeles Times Book Prize — winning Assorted Fire Eventswill recognize his extraordinary vision in The Secret Goldfish. A trio of erotically charged kids goes on a crime spree in Michigan; a goldfish bears witness to the demise of a Connecticut marriage; and an extremely unlucky man is stalked by lightning. This dazzling new collection reveals Means' rare talent for the short story and establishes his place among the...

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Overview

Readers familiar with David Means' electrifying work in the Los Angeles Times Book Prize — winning Assorted Fire Eventswill recognize his extraordinary vision in The Secret Goldfish. A trio of erotically charged kids goes on a crime spree in Michigan; a goldfish bears witness to the demise of a Connecticut marriage; and an extremely unlucky man is stalked by lightning. This dazzling new collection reveals Means' rare talent for the short story and establishes his place among the American masters.

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Editorial Reviews

Jeffrey Eugenides
“Riveting...it is Means’ signature talent to view the lives of his characters, and life itself, from somewhere just beyond...”
Donald Antrim
“Means is a courageous writer, intelligent and funny and humane...the pleasure in reading THE SECRET GOLDFISH is tremendous.”
Michael Faber on Assorted Fire Events
“We care for the characters as if we have known and loved and detested them forever…An exceptional book.”
Elle
“A darkly comic cache of stories . . . impressively inventive.”
Esquire
“With stunning simplicity, Means offers 15 stirring portraits of tragedy, loss, and love.”
New York Times Book Review
“Vivid…Means’s last collection was a finalist for the National Book Award…the stories here are just as unsentimental and tightly wound.”
Los Angeles Times
“David Means knows his way around the English language. [The Secret Goldfish] aims toward a mythology of the modern heartland…so lovely I want to quote the whole thing.”
Esquire
“With stunning simplicity, Means offers 15 stirring portraits of tragedy, loss, and love.”
Elle
“A darkly comic cache of stories . . . impressively inventive.”
New York Times
Achingly intelligent....[David Means] stands among our most gifted younger writers.”
The New Yorker
Crystalline.”
Esquire on Assorted Fire Events
“A splendid short story collection...from one of the most original writers of short fiction working today
New York Times Book Review on Assorted Fire Events
“Lean, agile…There’s not a cheap emotion or a predictable conclusion to be found...humane [and] unaccountably lovely.”
The New Yorker on Assorted Fire Events
Crystalline.”
Esquire
“A splendid short story collection...from one of the most original writers of short fiction working today
New York Times
Achingly intelligent....[David Means] stands among our most gifted younger writers.”
Los Angeles Times
“David Means knows his way around the English language. [The Secret Goldfish] aims toward a mythology of the modern heartland…so lovely I want to quote the whole thing.”
The New Yorker
"Crystalline."
Elle
“A darkly comic cache of stories . . . impressively inventive.”
New York Times Book Review
“Vivid…Means’s last collection was a finalist for the National Book Award…the stories here are just as unsentimental and tightly wound.”
Richard Eder
… achingly intelligent … The settings in The Secret Goldfish, mostly the Great Lakes shores of northern Michigan, have more substance than the characters do. The high winter sky arcing Arctic-wards toward Canada, the steely lake waters, the black silhouettes of ore boats gliding distantly by, the immense span of the Mackinac Bridge (one young woman plunges her car off it in a snowstorm): these seem to offer — and at the same time withhold — the reality that eludes them.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The characters in this imaginative and penetrating story collection-a man hounded by lightning strikes, a driver blown off the Mackinac bridge, a pianist whose fingers stop working, a woman who slaughters her boyfriend after ambiguous consultations with Jesus and the devil, a bog man roused from his shallow grave-are beset by bolts from the blue. Sometimes the victims and sometimes the perpetrators of calamity, they struggle to extract meaning-and the occasional glimpses of grace and beauty-from the chaos and brutality that disrupt their lives. Means, author of the acclaimed story collection Assorted Fire Events, probes a broad range of social registers, from junkies and criminals festering in the postindustrial decay of northern Michigan's iron range to the chilly adulteries of the artsy New York haute bourgeoisie, linking them into a bleak, sometimes apocalyptic panorama of the precariousness of life in a country that "could eat anything, absolutely anything, up." His uncompromising vision rarely indulges anything more comforting than harsh poetic epiphanies, inexplicable moments of clarity gleaned from random encounters with destruction; the story "Michigan Death Trip," a litany of demise from nonnatural causes, is emblematic of the book's sensibility. But every so often, as with the titular goldfish who endures, and even prevails, when his tank is neglected by a family in the throes of divorce, a happy ending slips through. Agent, Andrew Wylie. 5-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
More brilliant stories from the author of Assorted Fire Events, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen stories in a third collection by the prizewinning Means (Assorted Fire Events, 2000, etc.): tales set mostly in harsh northern areas of the Midwest among people the rest of us would rather avoid. "Lightning Man" survives a series of lightning strikes that ritualize the stages of his life until he's just another old man telling his story at the barber shop, at least until the next bolt hits. In "Sault Ste. Marie," a petty thug who sees his life as little more than "a collection of raw sensations" commits casual acts of violence yet is drawn deeply into his lover's tale of desecrated beauty. Similar lowlifes commit Clockwork Orange-like mayhem in "Hunger," while the sexual predator in "Carnie" is creepy but more fleshed-out than the victim. In "Blown From the Bridge," a young girl who may have been abused by her father dies in a car accident after refusing the safe harbor of her lover X's bed. "X" is also the name of an older lover in "A Visit from Jesus," but if he's the same man he has aged badly; after a visitation from Jesus, this X's much younger girlfriend finds his stash of child pornography and kills him. Is she driven by spiritual revelation? Drugs? Religious fervor churns just below the surface in many of these pieces, mixtures of Denis Johnson and Kafka. After a farmer digs up a bog man, "Elyria Man," in his field, both turn out to have secrets. "Michigan Death Trap" is basically a catalogue of bizarre deaths. But a few of the tales, notably "Counterparts," "Petrouchka With Omissions," and the title story, which is told through the eyes of the family pet, are middle-class in orientation and focus on marital infidelity instead of violence. Though less flashy, they cut atleast as close to the bone as Means's more obvious tours de force. Black/bleak comedies of moral and spiritual breakdown. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780007164905
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/30/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

David Means is the author of A Quick Kiss of Redemption and The Secret Goldfish. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Short Stories. He lives in Nyack, New York, and teaches at Vassar College.

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Table of Contents

Lightning Man 1
Sault Ste. Marie 15
It Counts as Seeing 33
Blown from the Bridge 47
A Visit from Jesus 61
Petrouchka [with Omissions] 69
Elyria Man 89
The Project 107
Hunger 113
Counterparts 131
Dustman Appearances to Date 147
Carnie 157
The Nest 171
Michigan Death Trip 187
The Secret Goldfish 197
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Internationally acclaimed author David Means reaches a new level of accomplishment in The Secret Goldfish, a compelling mix of the tragic and the comic that deepens our understanding of what it means to be human. An extremely unlucky individual is stalked by lightning across the American landscape. Jesus Christ appears to advise a young woman in Michigan. A bog man tells his story from an Ohio field. A goldfish struggles to survive, bearing witness to the destruction of a Connecticut family.

In a style that is instantly recognizable, dramatic and dynamic, and always deeply passionate, Means opens up moral questions and reveals the complexities of life in strikingly new ways. As the Irish Times stated, "the roll-call of honor, from Eudora Welty, to John Cheever, John Updike, William Maxwell, to Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff and Annie Proulx, is long and rich. Just when it seems that things could get no better, along comes David Means."

Discussion Questions

  1. In many of the stories in The Secret Goldfish, including "Lightning Man," "Sault Ste. Marie" "A Visit from Jesus," and "It Counts as Seeing," and "Michigan Death Trip" violence is visited on characters in strange and inexplicable ways. How did these different iterations of violence contribute to your appreciation of the collection as a whole?

  2. In "Notable Dustman Appearances to Date," "A Visit from Jesus," and "Elyria Man," the role of the supernatural or otherworldly comes into play. How did these extraordinary presences impact your reading? Did you sense that these presences were grounded in a spiritual or moral universe?

  3. How do some of the author's experimental strategies: multiple perspectives in "It Counts as Seeing"; vignettes in "Michigan Death Trip"; and alphabetic progression in "Counterparts" work to reveal the deeper meaning of the individual stories?

  4. In stories like "The Nest," "The Secret Goldfish" "Petrouchka [with Omissions]" and "Counterparts," the author explores the dissolution of marriages and families. How was this theme developed across these stories?

  5. Many of the stories in The Secret Goldfish are set in Michigan and its environs. Discuss the significance and specificity of setting in this collection. Was it easy for you to "locate" these stories? What were some shared features of their settings?

  6. Isaac Babel, Gogol, Sinatra, Hemingway, Walker Evans, Stravinsky, Iggy Pop, Proust. The characters in The Secret Goldfish make references to these and other artists. What does this range of cultural references suggest about the characters of The Secret Goldfish? What social milieu do many of these stories seem to occupy?

  7. What is the effect of mixing realist and fantastic stories in the same collection? How did the repetition of character names from one story to another impact your reading? Did these techniques lead you to insights otherwise not available?

  8. In "The Project," the protagonist seeks to "stake out and occupy each province of [his] household." To what extent does this compulsion to see, know, and record everything seem to comment on the process of omniscient narration? Do you think that stories in this collection like "It Counts as Seeing" and "Counterparts" are also open to this reading?

  9. Several of the stories in The Secret Goldfish, pair human sexuality with secrecy and violence. What is the effect of these connections? Consider stories like "Elyria Man," "A Visit from Jesus," "Carnie," and "Sault Ste. Marie" in your discussion.

  10. What is your favorite story in the book? Why?

About David Means

David Means won the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his previous book, Assorted Fire Events, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, an Esquire Best Book of the Year, a Book Sense pick, and has been translated into six languages. Stories from The Secret Goldfish have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Esquire, McSweeney, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2001. Means was born and raised in Michigan. He lives in Nyack, New York.

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