Cover Image: Instructions for a Funeral

Instructions for a Funeral

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Instructions for a funeral is a collection of stories which focus on reflection on a life lived, not always well, and how our experiences shape our ability in later life to understand not only ourselves but others in our family, friendship group and community. This story is definitely literary and a lot to take in. 

Not everyone likes the literary ways. Just needs to be presented in a more readable way.
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Review written for and posted at BookBrowse: https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/reviews/index.cfm/ref/pr249728

In 14 wandering stories about family, loss, violence, isolation and retrospection, David Means explores how discontentment and unrest shape people and the stories they tell.

Following a venture into novels with Hystopia in 2016, Instructions for a Funeral is a return to David Means' signature form—the short story. This collection contains 14 stories that have been previously published in The Paris Review, Harper's, The New Yorker, and VICE. In them, Means approaches his characters' tensions and torments with refined, yet digressive prose. Depicting fights, affairs, illnesses, addictions, deaths and murders, this collection critiques how people remember things and explores why we need stories.

Gnawing and confessional, Means brings readers into narratives that span time and place, each a combination of compact observations and broad, panoramic questions about the world. "Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950" describes a bloody, bone-breaking brawl between teenagers from conflicting working-class and upper-class backgrounds. Over the years, the central character's take on the fight evolves, as he uses present-day knowledge to try to justify past actions. "The Terminal Artist" focuses on a young mother who dies from cancer. A supposedly natural but tragic death shifts to a darker place when years later, the cause of death is reexamined in relation to a string of murders. If not for living in a particular state, seeking out a particular doctor, undergoing surgery on a particular day, and being cared for by a particular nurse, irreparable tragedy may have never happened. As the more sinister cause of death emerges, the narrative is rewritten, a display of how hindsight changes grief.

Other stories range from the 1930s to the present day, giving glimpses of a wide cast of conflicted, isolated characters. A couple tries to reconcile physical and emotional pain during an affair. A paranoid man writes an unintentionally humorous confessional will about friendship betrayals, the mafia and murder. A group of drug addicts take to the road. A mentally ill patient believes he is a royal butler. An FBI duo stake out a farmhouse. Kurt Cobain and Raymond Carver inhabit similar positions in the Pacific Northwest's working class, both turning to substance abuse. A father struggles with the mortality and freedom of his young boy.

Only two of the 14 stories— "Farewell, My Brother" and "Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother"— are explicitly connected through a shared character, Frank, the narrator's brother. Frank cycles through halfway houses, rehabilitation centers and psychiatric hospitals. Nearly every story in this collection grapples with the ideas of narrative and memory, but Frank's short stories do this most directly and abrasively. Why do we misremember things? What does it mean to remove someone's right to their own narrative story? And why do some choose to view their lives through a narrative lens while others do not? Do stories build empathy? Can telling a story do a disservice to the truth?

There are few threads tying these stories together; however, the collection is far from disparate because of Means' writing style. His award-winning prose is remarkably distinct, with sprawling syntax and convoluted asides. The images Means provides are clean and impactful, such as his descriptions of "nubby hills…ribboned in anguish" and the "soft shish of ice sliding over itself as the tide swept up." Means' characters tend to follow a certain form, too. They live in harsh, fickle Northern states, such as Michigan, Illinois, New York and Washington. They tend to come from working-class backgrounds. Often post-industrial, they feel the push-and-pull between urban and rural ways of life. These hardened, sardonic characters have a tendency toward solitude and worry.

There are some weaknesses to this collection. Nearly every character has the same voice in dialogue sections—Means' trademark meandering style—which reduces the dimension of some of his creations. Likewise, at times, the prose seems needlessly tangled and layered, which can make it difficult to sink into some of the stories. Nevertheless, for readers who are drawn to the cutting, focused form of short stories and contemporary, unconventional voices in the medium, Instructions for a Funeral is a worthy read.

If you're interested in sampling the book before buying, both "The Terminal Artist" and "Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950" are available online in full.
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Instructions for a funeral is a collection of stories which focus on reflection on a life lived, not always well, and how our experiences shape our ability in later life to understand not only ourselves but others in our family, friendship group and community.

I've never read work by David Means before so wasn't sure what to expect. His writing style is quite literary, full of long, clearly agonised over sentences and descriptive constructs so that you feel a sense of purpose in every word carefully chosen to represent so much more than the word on the page.

A couple of the stories resonated deeper than others.  The Chair, a story about a mans relationship with his son and his constant guiding, warnings about being carefully near a worn wall which had a drop on the other side. The peril of not possibly reaching his son before he falls must be a constant source of worry for all parents, all through a child's life.

The Ice Committee tells the story of two homeless men (one a Nam veteran), the other a skilled manufacturer both out of work and down on their luck, who band together to share stories, a drink and a scratch card. That hopelessness of choosing a scratch card with the odds against them instead of finding food and shelter, signifying the human spirit can endure whatever the odds.

Finally the story about The Butler, was heartbreaking. A man in a nursing home, wandering the corridors, reliving his "allege" previous life as a butler to Lord Byron. That sense of who knows you, when all those who did know you gave already gone and you no longer know who you are.

A poignant collection of stories, told in a literary way.
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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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