Fifteen stories in a third collection by the prizewinning Means (Assorted Fire Events, 2000, etc.): tales set mostly in harsh northern areas of the Midwest among people the rest of us would rather avoid.
“Lightning Man” survives a series of lightning strikes that ritualize the stages of his life until he’s just another old man telling his story at the barber shop, at least until the next bolt hits. In “Sault Ste. Marie,” a petty thug who sees his life as little more than “a collection of raw sensations” commits casual acts of violence yet is drawn deeply into his lover’s tale of desecrated beauty. Similar lowlifes commit Clockwork Orange–like mayhem in “Hunger,” while the sexual predator in “Carnie” is creepy but more fleshed-out than the victim. In “Blown From the Bridge,” a young girl who may have been abused by her father dies in a car accident after refusing the safe harbor of her lover X’s bed. “X” is also the name of an older lover in “A Visit from Jesus,” but if he’s the same man he has aged badly; after a visitation from Jesus, this X’s much younger girlfriend finds his stash of child pornography and kills him. Is she driven by spiritual revelation? Drugs? Religious fervor churns just below the surface in many of these pieces, mixtures of Denis Johnson and Kafka. After a farmer digs up a bog man, “Elyria Man,” in his field, both turn out to have secrets. “Michigan Death Trap” is basically a catalogue of bizarre deaths. But a few of the tales, notably “Counterparts,” “Petrouchka With Omissions,” and the title story, which is told through the eyes of the family pet, are middle-class in orientation and focus on marital infidelity instead of violence. Though less flashy, they cut at least as close to the bone as Means’s more obvious tours de force.
Black/bleak comedies of moral and spiritual breakdown.