A review of

The Secret Goldfish

by David Means

Central question: How vulnerable are we to bewilderingly random, perverse twists of fate?
Format: 224 pp., hardcover; Size: 6-1/8” x 9”; Price: $22.95; Publisher: Fourth Estate; Editor: Courtney Hodell; Book designer: Getty Images; Text typeface: Belén; Time spent writing: about seven years, mostly in the last four; Number of serious migraine headaches suffered by author during writing of book (even after snorting Imitrex): at least ten; Representative sentence: “They’d come up like a bunch of pigs, a wild writhing show of brute hunger, all those little fish mouths sucking for the pellets, and only so many pellets to go around.”

“I don’t want anyone to die in my stories anymore,” begins a story in David Means’s previous collection, Assorted Fire Events. It’s an arresting moment, when Means wipes off the greasepaint and squints in the klieg lights, laying bare his intentions—or his plaintive wish. And it resonates with irony, of course. Human suffering and death are the inescapable facts of existence, he’s telling us; wishing that life were otherwise is as futile as shouting into the wind, or trying to build mountains one spoonful at a time.

In The Secret Goldfish, Means’s new collection, his characters are no better off. An Illinois farmer is relentlessly dogged by lightning, which “speared him in the brow the way you’d poke a shrimp with a cocktail fork.”A young woman driving her Toyota during an icy, windblown night is swept off a bridge. “Michigan Death Trip” (in the spirit of the cult classic Wisconsin Death Trip) enumerates its carnage in a succession of vignettes: a head-on collision between a car and a truck transporting crated cherries produces “an abundance of fruit and blood and sparks spread out across the dark road”; a daredevil kid snowmobiling at night is decapitated by a telephone-pole wire; a guy high on speed breaks a fluorescent light tube against his friend’s face, slicing open his jugular.

But for all Means’s narrative reliance on tragedy, he never indulges in gothic excess. His prose is exquisitely modulated, at once elegiac and dispassionate, alive to both beauty and absurdity in the midst of horrific events.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Rebecca Donner

Rebecca Donner is the author of the novel Sunset Terrace, and is the editor of On the Rocks: The KGB Bar Fiction Anthology. She is currently working on her second novel.

News on Facebook Photos on Instagram Stuff on Pinterest Announcements by RSS Sounds on Soundcloud Exclusives on Tumblr Updates on Twitter

Subscribe to our mailing list