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by Matthew McIntosh

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Critically acclaimed Well marks the astonishing debut of an author with a singular and unflinching voice and vision. Set primarily among the working-class of a Seattle suburb called Federal Way, this highly original novel-told in the form of interlinked short stories- extols the lives of a large cast of characters lost in various modes of darkness and despair.


Critically acclaimed Well marks the astonishing debut of an author with a singular and unflinching voice and vision. Set primarily among the working-class of a Seattle suburb called Federal Way, this highly original novel-told in the form of interlinked short stories- extols the lives of a large cast of characters lost in various modes of darkness and despair. Whether struggling to come together or desperately alone, they grapple with dark compulsions and heart-rending afflictions. As if trapped at the bottom of a well, they search for relief, for a vehicle into the light they know is up and outside.

They search in sex, in drugs and violence, and in visions of Apocalypse and Creation, dreams of angels and killers and local sports championships. Compact, finely wrought, powerfully charged, Well ultimately rises toward the light, in a finale which echoes with the exhilarating human capacity for hope. The result is a mesmerizing tour de force that will establish Matthew McIntosh as a bold and progressive new voice of American fiction.



Snapshots of various troubled couples on the day that the Seattle SuperSonics lose their chance at advancing to the NBA finals. Len and Adda are fighting- Len is in love with Adda (she is "the girl he wanted") but she is torn, and is leaving the next day to spend a week with her fiancée to make sure that breaking up with him is the right thing. Len becomes jealously enraged when he finds out Adda and her fiancée will be sleeping in the same bed, begging her not to touch the man.

Nate and Sammie are also fighting: Sammie insists that a certain girl who is trying to convert Nate stop calling their house. Nate gets tired of Sammie's hysteria and beats her, only to become terrified at what he has done.

A first person narrator recalls his rather pathetic adventures with prostitutes in Thailand, where he made big money at an English language newspaper and lived like a king. He brought a woman over who now resents him for it, and they have a staid marriage while he continues to dream over prostitutes.

Raymond and his wife are at the SuperSonics game and get in a fight when Ray's wife sees he is ogling cheerleaders through his binoculars. He misses it when the team loses at the buzzer.

The SuperSonics janitor comes home to his wife, who is pregnant. He masturbates as he recalls the time he slipped out to watch a burlesque show at the strip joint across the street.


II. Shelly is a Korean 16-year-old boarding school student who likes having sex with strangers in bars and doing crystal meth. She falls a sleep and crashes her car through a fence, causing her mother to cry and call her "A Real American Whore" when she picks her up in prison. She meets an older man who takes her in but finally gets sick of giving her money to drink and sends her home. When her mother isn't home, she goes to the nearest bar.

III. A phone sex patron can't make up his mind what he wants his fantasy to be and the story concludes: "Do you realize what this is costing?"

IV. The story of Davin, a warehouse worker, and Sarah, who are in a band together. Davin is loving and committed to Sarah but Sarah doesn't see a future with him. She gets pregnant and they grow distant. One day Davin gets in a fight with a co-worker and is paralyzed on his left side after being hit in the skull. Sarah takes care of him in the hospital, but when he returns home he begins drinking. One night he picks the 2-year-old up while drunk and Sarah becomes hysterical when the child begins crying. He beats Sarah and is issued a restraining order. Sarah moves out and eventually begins dating a construction worker she does not really love.


A group of guys gets into a game of chicken with a car containing a guy and a bunch of girls. When the guys cut the girls off suddenly, the driver of the latter car approaches the guys in an insane rage and finally hits the driver in the nose.

Santos and his young partner work at a hotel-they go to Denny's when they should be training an Ethiopian who messes up on his first day. The guys get fired for this and Santos, humiliated, tells the young partner about the time he made a buzzer shot in a college basketball game only to have the game-winning points taken away from him by the refs.

A kid drops some pills at the bus station and gets stuck on the Greyhound listening to a vet recount his experience in Guam, where he dug a whole to save himself from gunfire.


SPACEMAN: Charlie is a lonely gay bartender who has started to feel old and fat. Although he loves bartending and meeting people, etc., he loses his job because he has kept drinking on the job after repeated warnings. He laments that he has never been in love. On the night he loses his job he goes home to try to clean his filthy house but ends up vomiting into the toilet, longing for company.

DAMAGE: A young man enters a peep bbbbbbooth with his friends and is struck by his ugly reflection as he looks at the beautiful dancer. When his friends begin teasing the dancer by sticking their tongue out, the bouncers approach them and a brawl ensues. The young man "pounds the Living Holy Fuck" out of the bouncers.

A man begins experience atrocious cyclical spells of pain, incoherence, and anxiety after he dives into a swimming pool one day and hits his head on the bottom. His parents take him to all variety of specialists who prescribe drugs, etc. and eventually he becomes dependent on them, and a drunk. He moves to London to get away from it all and meets a girl who wants to marry him but eventually assaults her in a fit of hysteria. He moves back home and lives a quiet life. When the pain is gone, he discovers that he misses it.

A man finds out that he will die of cancer and spends his day at the Trolley bar, getting hammered and thinking about the pointlessness of it all.

A man walks into a pharmacy with a fake prescription. The pharmacist dials 911 but before the police come he shoots himself.

The gruesome last days of two gunmen-one who killed his family before racing through the city on a killing spree as he fled from the cops, the other a man who shot a city bus driver- are recreated in a frank, reportorial manner.

The narrator, a somewhat pathetic naïf whose father wrecked the home by cheating on his catatonic mother, develops a crush on a girl who works at a fish restaurant. He goes on a date with her but is rejected when he attempts to grope her at her front door. Gradually he becomes obsessed with her, writing her love letters and visiting her even though she doesn't want to see him again. After he threatens to jump off her roof, her father tries to set him straight, eventually punching him in the face. He is offered admission at a fisheries school in Nebraska and goes there to get away from Seattle, but finds it isn't what he bargained for, and becomes bored. He lies by the highway and in a somewhat magical-realism passage two guys stop their car and begin taking his body apart until he has turned into a fish, gasping for air on the highwayside. It starts to rain and he finds himself "there, somewhere, in-between."

A Jesus-loving woman develops a mysterious degenerative illness and is forced to spend the rest of her days in a home, putting up a front of hope but knowing that she is on her way out.

The narrator remembers his first love, a girl without a mother and an abusive father. It is an innocent relationship-the narrator is plagued by sexual hang-ups and the girl cries after intercourse. When the narrator accidentally gets her pregnant, the girl's father storm into his house and almost chokes him to death. Thinking about his mentally retarded brother that his parents institutionalized and about the beatings his girlfriend has taken from her father, the narrator breaks up with the girl because he feels guilty that he can't take care of his own.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Readers who've been burned one too many times in the giddy self-referenced hall of mirrors that is postmodern fiction could be forgiven for asking themselves some variation of "How long, Lord, how long?" But they would be unwise. For Matthew McIntosh, young and despondent though he may be, is the real thing -- a tremendously gifted and supple prose hand, recounting all manner of human distress and extremity in an assured and generous voice, balancing, as all honest practitioners of the fictional art must, the delicately pitched forces of fate, remorse and grace. — Chris Lehmann
The New York Times
The scope of this book is exciting and fresh. — Jennifer Reese
Publishers Weekly
"I think something inside of her broke, whatever that string is that holds people together, it snapped." "That string" is the leitmotif of this unusual, dark debut novel with an ensemble cast. McIntosh assembles different episodes and voices to create an impressionistic tableau of Federal Way, Washington, a blue-collar town facing the loss of blue-collar jobs and culture. McIntosh's characters are introduced in first-person testimonies and third-person sketches that build matter-of-factly and then trail off ambiguously, like entries in a police blotter-if the police blotter were written by Samuel Beckett. They lead lives of quiet despair, punctuated by bursts of violence, benders and bad sex. Physical pain harries many of the characters, madness others, and almost all are cursed with deteriorating personal relationships. Among the most moving episodes is a long chapter, "Fishboy," narrated by Will, a student at a small college in Nebraska who is studying fisheries. The story flashes back to his dangerous obsession with a classmate, Emily Swanson, and his father leaving his mother. Another beautifully executed sequence, "Border," shows how the suicide of an ex-boxer, Jim, is viewed by his sister-in-law, his brother, his buddies, a former opponent and his mother's friends. The sustained glide from voice to voice is virtuosic, and the writing is dogged-it never gets literary; it digs through the clich s and the usual inarticulateness of the stories people tell in bars and grocery store lines; and it stumbles on diamonds in the rough everywhere. McIntosh is only 26, but he is already an artful registrar of the heart's lower frequencies. Agent, Susan Golomb. (Aug.) Forecast: If grunge met Beckett, it would come out like this. McIntosh will go over particularly well in the Pacific Northwest, and Dennis Cooper fans will love him, too. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The characters in this impressive debut all need to get a life-and they're grappling to do so with varying degrees of success. Their struggles to establish meaningful, long-term relationships are limited by insecurities, complexes, drug and alcohol abuse, or impulsive acts. These related stories are set in present-day Federal Way, a generally blue-collar suburb located between Seattle and Tacoma. Given the soggy setting, barroom encounters, drifting characters, fragility of relationships, and overall mood, McIntosh will inevitably be compared to his obvious influence, Raymond Carver. The structure of his stories tends to be more complex, though, relating different aspects through multiple narrators or shifting the focus among a variety of characters. Occasionally, the result is utter artifice, as in the disjointed, seven-part "It's Taken So Long To Get Here." The longest and strongest story, "The Border," is more focused, employing overlapping story lines and perspectives with utter brilliance. Forget the frosting, McIntosh, because you sure can bake some fine cakes. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Disjointed anecdotes of mostly prurient interest about the ne'er-do-well of Seattle are hard-pressed to comprise a first novel. McIntosh traces the random beddings and offhanded dialogue of people who frequent a bar called the Trolley near Federal Way: aging sports fans, Vietnam vets, cancer victims, waitresses, and ex-boxers who are often strung-out and usually horny. The chapters grouped as "It's Taking So Damn Long To Get Here" function as the leitmotiv to these characters' unnamable longings, which might be summed up by one speaker: "I worry I'm going to be waiting so long I'll forget what I'm waiting for." The people drink (and try to score drugs), vituperate, and writhe. Gradually, some patterns do take shape, and a few characters even assume a more fleshed-out dimension, such as the group of male drinking buddies who appear individually throughout, then end up together at the Trolley after the funeral of a friend who has committed suicide ("The Border"). The dialogue of these men, about sports and wife troubles, as they eye the waitress, could have been recorded on a soiled cocktail napkin. In "Vitality," a young man in chronic pain from a high-school diving accident recognizes that stroking his constant suffering is the one great love and purpose of his life. Elsewhere, "Fishboy," which first appeared in Playboy and provides the novel with its one well-developed narrative, follows a lonely teenager's creepy obsession with a girl from high school as he sets off to fisheries school in Nebraska. In "Looking Out for Your Own," McIntosh defies his sardonic lassitude by offering an affecting portrayal of a gawky young man who pursues an awkward sexual initiation with his girlfriend.These characters in general seem meant less to be lovable than pathetic. But their too-brief expressions of existential anxiety seem merely impressions, lacking a substance sufficient to move the reader. A half-baked idea of a book fails to allow this writer the venue to prove what he might do. Agent: Susan Golomb/Susan Golomb Agency

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.80(d)

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Well 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
BookReviewersClub More than 1 year ago
Dean Goranites of the BookReviewersClub reviewed the book "Well" by Matthew McIntosh. This is the author's first book. "Well" is similar to a series of short stories because it is written in a way where every new chapter consists of new characters and a new story plot. The story revolves around people going through tough times in their lives. They all live in in the same city of Federal Way, Washington and they all visit the same bar. As an example, one story is about a mother who works for 18 hours a week, is an immigrant, and who spends a majority of her day in a fast food restaurant making chicken. Her daughter starts getting involved in drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd. The daughter ends up becoming a prostitute who is unsure of what she is doing with her life and she spends a lot of time waiting for her mother to come home. After her mother takes too long one night, the daughter ends up walking to the local bar. Overall, all the stories were bleak and arguably depressing, but all the characters had a chance at redemption. Dean didn't believe that many of the characters got that redemption, but there were a few brief instances where the characters fought off their circumstances in order to find a happy and successful life. Dean said this book also helps a reader understand that no matter what we are doing in our life, we may never be completely satisfied if we don't have hope. However, we can still find a general satisfaction in life itself. He said that this book really impressed him and that's why he would recommend this to anybody who is not scared of something that could potentially bring them "into the darkness" while they read it. All in all, Dean gave the book 5 stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well' is a hard-earned marvel, and Matt McIntosh is a nothing less than a prodigy. His book focuses on a tapestry of broken lives in Federal Way, Washington, outside of Seattle, drawn together by the common ailments of discontentment, disillusionment, and a yearning for some small redemption. The chapter (or story) 'Fishboy,' about a young man suffering from the break-up of his family, has a raw, wrenching power like something I've rarely encountered in contemporary fiction, somewhat like the stories in Denis Johnson's 'Jesus' Son,' but wholly Matt McIntosh's, wholly unique. His work has a kind of poetic integrity that signals a rare talent, a new voice.