Well

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Overview

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 extols the lives of a large cast of characters lost in various modes of darkness and despair. Whether desperately alone or struggling to come together, they grapple with dark compulsions and heartrending afflictions. What binds them is the Well — that dark, barren Wasteland of the heart and mind — as if trapped at ...
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Overview

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 extols the lives of a large cast of characters lost in various modes of darkness and despair. Whether desperately alone or struggling to come together, they grapple with dark compulsions and heartrending afflictions. What binds them is the Well — that dark, barren Wasteland of the heart and mind — 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, drugs, and violence, and in visions of apocalypse and creation, dreams of angels and killers and local sports championships. Compact, finely wrought, and powerfully charged, Well ultimately rises toward the light in a finale that 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.
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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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802117519
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/5/2003
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 11, 2013

    Dean Goranites of the BookReviewersClub reviewed the book "

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2003

    Oustanding Debut

    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.

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