Instructions for a Funeral

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

I enjoyed more of the stories than I did not. Most were solid good stories with very good writing. Would recommend.
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What a gorgeous collection of short stories - I thought the writing was absolutely beautiful and compelling, I loved this so much.
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Instructions for a Funeral is an extraordinary collection of fourteen short stories by David Means. In “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950”, a simple fistfight turns out to be fraught with history and symbolism. In “The Terminal Artist” a grieving family learns their beloved mother may not die a natural death but perhaps was killed by an overly enthusiastic mercy killer. The description of her loss after surgery was so perfect, “What was hoped for and what happened were at odds.” A story that will break your heart is “Farewell, My Brother” that begins and ends with five men smoking outside a halfway house in Brooklyn.

The title story “Instructions for a Funeral” struck me as hilarious, an angry man planning a vengeful funeral with terrific music. I also loved the superstitious gamblers in “The Ice Committee.” The artistry of “The Tree Line, Kansas, 1934” was in all it did not say and in the clever twists of phrasing such as “A hunch twists inside the sinews and bones, integrating itself into the physicality of the moment, whereas a gut feeling can only struggle to become a hunch, and, once it does, is recognized in retrospect as a gut feeling.” The final story “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother” broke my heart.


David Means manages to write sentences and paragraphs that run on for a page or more. In a way, he reminds me of Gabriel García Márquez in his ability to weave a sentence far longer than anyone should be able and not lose himself or the reader. I love the way he concretizes emotion into something corporeal. When we remember grief, we don’t remember the concept of grief, we remember the bodily pain and tension of grief. He understands that emotions are expressed in our bodies, not just on the surface..

“ It’s not just that no matter how often you sort and pick through the story, alongside your parents and your sister and everyone else, you can’t help but find yourself, against your better nature, feeling the big sway and spin of the cosmos—the dark eternal matter of the stars, which, however isotropic or evenly balanced, seem, when you think of him, to be moving in a circular pattern that reminds you that the nurse explained, each time, during each pre-visit orientation, that part of the healing process was to step off the merry-go-round and never step back on.”

I loved this book. I re-read every story.

I received a copy of Instructions for a Funeral from the publisher through NetGalley

Instructions for a Funeral at Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan
David Means interview on NPR
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Instructions for a Funeral was a challenge to get through, even though I listened to them using text-to-speech software. The sentences were beautiful but far too long. More often than not, the long sentences didn't add much to the narrative. Each story was difficult to follow and although there are some themes worth exploring, but the novel doesn't go as deeply into them as I'd like. This collection contains "atmospheric" and "emotional" stories, rather than plot-driven narrative. Basically, if you enjoyed Cormack McCarthy's The Road, you'll probably enjoy Instructions for a Funeral. Otherwise, you may find a few good stories here and there but half the stories are pretty forgettable. I'm grateful I received the review copy, and perhaps someone will enjoy this collection, but not me.
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Not an easy read. Some of the stories displays a beautifully crafted sentences, but, alas, not always necessary to the development of the story itself. The stories are somewhat linked, or at least some of the stories are, and give an interesting take on how to live your life when you know you are going to die and have to left an image of who you were.
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Thank you Netgalley, the publisher, and author for an advanced copy of this book.

When I initially saw this book (I did request based on the cover/title, and knew David Means was well-known, though I'd never read anything of his) I was interested. I was thinking I'd get some tongue-in-cheek, dark humor.  Instead...I got really tired and bored.  

After the first three stories failed to grab my attention, I'll admit I skimmed the rest.  Long-winded run-on sentences are a pet peeve of mine.  Ultimately, I felt no connection to the stories or characters.
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This collection of carefully crafted stories requires a certain type of reader. This isn't a light hearted beach read - this requires thinkers and true readers. This is written by a man who enjoys writing, each word is carefully selected, and each sentence is thoughtful. 

While some of the stories felt more like musings/diary entries, I still enjoyed this immensely. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchanged for a honest review.

The stories of this book are quite interesting in each own individual way. But it was confusing at times and it took a lot of effort for me to finish it. The writing was very chaotic and I found myself skipping sentences throughout the book so I can keep a clear head to keep up with the story line.
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Instructions for a Funeral is a collection of short stories.  I love a good short story, and so I had high hopes for this book.  It is beautifully written.  Means has a way with words and descriptions.  Some of the stories in this collection were gripping.  Some, however, seemed to meander for a bit and then end abruptly. All in all, I think it's worth a read, especially if you're a fan of Means' work.  If you rely on dialogue and a good, twisty plot to keep you engaged, you may want to skip this one.
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This was a wild ride- genre-bending, reminiscent and relevant, humorous and poignant. Means has a way with the short story, a candid voice, unlike any other. This read sparks something!
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I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

I’m not sure whether it was the way this book was written or the masculine point of view, but unfortunately something about it left me cold. A couple of stories stood out to me but there were others that I lost focus with completely.
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A couple of the stories in this book were absolutely amazing. A couple of them seemed to miss me completely. All in all, in was a good, quick read.
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I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

I will say this for David Means: boy can he write a beautifully complicated sentence. I read two of David Means' short story collections back when I was in high school, and they were very influential for me at the time. It might have been my impressionable young brain, it might have been the amazing stories, or more likely, a combination of the two. While I enjoyed reading this book, I wouldn't say it was influential; in fact, even though I enjoyed the reading experience I can barely tell you at this point what any of the stories were actually about. 

The only story I vividly remember was the book's title story, "Instructions for a Funeral." It was lovely. 

All in all, worth reading but not life-changing.
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'The problem is, my son sees the man I am now and not the men I was before I became the man I am not.'

I have conflicted feelings about this collection of stories. The best of it for me is in Fatherhood, The Problematic Father, “…the fact that my father was highly problematic at times came in part from that fact that he was dealing with me.” Have any truer words ever been spoken? We also don’t see all the versions of our fathers, who they were before they became simply, Dad. I think sometimes in reading we expect men to express the way they feel about their children and fatherhood in the same way mothers do and fault them for their genuine thoughts. How do you explain how it feels being a man, particularly a father, one who can “bear up under certain responsibilities”, about the limitations.

In Farewell, My Brother there is a line about a man named Frankie, ‘he’s one of those who came lumbering out of the vapor, his sway and his sea-dog talk marking him as an anomaly.’ What a gorgeous way to paint the picture for readers, David Means can certainly give life to his characters. His is a keen eye into decline, ruin. I feel a deep sense of detachment moving through so many of the characters, that hopeless feeling of pointlessness. There is suffering, sure, anyone alive suffers but even meeting the pulsing source, the cause which so much of the time is the life we’re living, doesn’t change much for us. Life can feel like a mystery illness sometimes.

Carver and Cobain… “his mind is impenetrable, untraceable step by step through those last moments”, which makes me think, in many ways, our minds are always like that, because we never can really express our pain, nor our joy whether we’re an award-winning author or ill-fated grunge star, can we? For Cobain it’s the end… the end… the end, isn’t it? Chronic pain, addiction only those living inside of it can understand the compulsion to obliterate it all. Is there a moment of regret at the very end, shocked awake when it’s too late?

It’s not that the writing is too intelligent for most readers, and there are depths to explore, but not all stories flowed, and I hate saying that because there is serious storytelling in here. In Rockland, the senseless ache, the realization that no amount of ‘humiliation’ will necessarily be a cure. You want to fuel that hope for your loved one, but it’s dying, a brother is trapped in a loop of his own addiction, and how do you find joy in the possibility of ‘flight’ as a means to an end to all that suffering. Some of us will never find our path, are fated to be lost in ourselves be it addiction or mental illness, even worse a combination of the two.  For all the upbeat talk, the centers, the group homes, the medications and therapies, promises of salvation, for the moments light seems to return to our loved ones, outside in the real world the limitations of reality are waiting for our beloved to break themselves against all over again. The writing is astute but some readers may find the delivery difficult to follow.

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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I typically like short story collections, though this one did not resonate with me.  I found the point of view overtly male, and too prose-heavy for the short fiction form.  I was intrigued by the description of the pieces included, though the execution was not what I anticipated or hoped.  Took me as long to get through this 200 page collection as it would a book twice the length.
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The title and cover intrigued me greatly, but I was disappointed when I began reading. The writing was a bit convoluted and the unnecessary wordiness made it difficult to dive in and lose myself in the moment. The killer nurse one intrigued me, but then it was over before it really began. I think if it was streamlined and more concise, it would be more readable, but I'm guessing that's the author's writing style. It's just not my reading style.
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Eh... I just couldn’t get into this one. Others may like it; it just couldn’t hold my attention. 

I would like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
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Instructions for a Funeral is the fifth short story collection from Man Booker-prize nominated author David Means. This new collection contains 14 previously published stories including “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother” (New Yorker, 5/17), “El Morro” (New Yorker, 8/11), “The Tree Line, Kansas, 1934” (New Yorker, 10/10) and the stand-out “The Terminal Artist” (Vice, 6/15). Part-journalism, if it were real, Means tells of the sudden death of a loved one from surgical complications, revealed years later as the probable victim of a serial-killing nurse.

Each story lives as it’s own beast – a testament to Means’ years of practice. In “The Chair” he tackles the tenderness and anxiety of new fatherhood; in “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950” a fist-fight unfolds in slow motion and resolves into a life-long love story and includes the hilarious, if awkwardly prioritized, sentence: “Punch me first, you two-bit dirt hopper, toss the first one at me and let’s get this started so I can get home and take a nice, long, warm bath.”

Means’ characters are hardened, sardonic, hopeful and full of worry – sort of distinctly American in their takes on the various situations life has thrown at them. In the titular story, a man leaves instructions for his funeral that reveal a compounding paranoia of organized crime and shady real estate ventures that reminds one of those hasty bad-parent obituaries.

Because there’s no unifying theme, this isn’t the kind of collection you can sit down and read it one sitting and really appreciate. The stories are layered and complex, as they should be, though to run through several might prove exhausting. Some, like “The Tree Line” did read easy until I’d read a paragraph a few times and even then, it wasn’t a favorite; others like “The Terminal Artist” resonated with me quickly. Don’t rush the stories into your own timeline – read and let them linger.

Netgalley provided this copy in exchange for review.
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"Instructions for a Funeral" is the fifth collection of stories by David Means. After reading his last collection, "The Spot", and his only novel, "Hystopia", I was really looking forward to delving into these stories. Unfortunately it was a tough journey. Most of the things I really liked about his works that I previously read, i.e. the weirdness, is all buy gone in these stories. Instead we are given a collection of stories that are deep in contemplation and idea but shallow in action and even character in most cases. Even though the collection is slightly over 200 pages, it felt so long because the reading is slow. The sentences are long, and the paragraphs are longer, most of them being so knotted that we have to spend a great deal of time either trying to untie them and figure out what Means is trying to convey or just keep on moving. These situations ran about 50/50 for me. There are many stories I did not care about enough to work hard to figure out the nuances. Many of the stories run into the same situation and they break down like this: 

1. Two men are talking. No more than two. Some are friends. Some are strangers. Some are friends by circumstance. Most are married, but the wives have no part of these stories, unless they are lost due to some action the man now regrets and is the reason for the discussion with the other man.

2. Many of these men while listening are looking at nature, sometimes the trees but most of the time the river. Not only are they looking at it, but they are distracted by it, as if they cannot focus on anything because their surrounding are too magnificent to really keep the narrative.

3. Many of the narrators of the overall story is not the talker in these two men and the stories are told in retrospect, with a little bit of a hint of the future. We come to understand these are memories most of the time, but there is not much development besides the narrator saying that it is a memory.

4. Many do not have conclusion of action as much as conclusion of thought. 

Some of these stories vary a little but not too much. I do not know if this is Means's way of working through a problem in his mind, worrying the same rock until it is smooth, but I hope that his next collection has a bit more variety and interesting stories than this one. I will continue to read him, and he is one of America's best writers, but this is not a great collection to illustrate this. 

I received an ARC of this collection through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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a Story that was nothing like I expected. diving into family, parenthood, drugs and addiction. I was a little thrown by the development. The serial killer nurse and the police just didn't draw me in.
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