Instructions for a Funeral: Stories by David Means

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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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