The Spot Stories

David Means

Faber & Faber



Trade Paperback

176 Pages



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The Spot draws thirteen new stories together into a masterful collection that shows David Means at his finest: at once comically detached and wrenchingly affecting, expansive and concise, wildly inventive and firmly rooted in tradition. Means’s work has earned him comparisons to Flannery O’Connor (London Review of Books), Alice Munro, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac (Newsday), Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson (Chicago Tribune/NPR), Denis Johnson (Entertainment Weekly), Poe, Chekhov, and Carver (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), but the spot he has staked out in the American literary landscape is fully and originally his own.


Praise for The Spot

"Most story writers make a pretense of beginning in one place and ending in another; in his new collection, The Spot, as in all of his work, Means hardly ever bothers. Typically his stories contain only one event—a bank robbery, a crucifixion, an unauthorized and highly improper burial—that forms the plot's alpha and omega, its opening and closing, all at once. Rather than moving in linear time, the narration pirouettes again and again around that one point. Reading his work, we feel that whatever has occurred cannot be undone or bargained away; it can only be magnified, interpreted, expostulated upon. If there is a sense of growth here, it is of an organic, inhuman kind, the way scar tissue gnarls over a wound, or a tree grows a new layer of bark after a forest fire, sealing the evidence within the rings."—Jess Row, The New York Times

“Means is more than a conventionally accomplished realistic story writer. As I’ve written before in these pages, his fiction sometimes skitters up to the borderline of legend . . . he can produce work that holds up even in comparison with his most gifted ancestors like Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, employing some of the most sharp-edged and beautifully spare language of any writer of his generation. The stories in The Spot show him working at the top of his powers . . . With this new collection readers with a taste for high art in the short story will want to place him up there with writers such as Evan Connell, James Salter, and, from a slightly younger generation, Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford.”—Alan Cheuse, The Chicago Tribune

“Each story is a reminder of why people break, and an uncomfortable revelation that we are all closer to breaking than we think.”—Esquire

“His book is dark, deep and dangerous. Here, the author’s technical authority continues to astonish. He’ll switch point of view midstory or examine the act of storytelling while telling a tale that you actually want to read. His most typical pieces, at once shadowy and insanely focused, feature bleak Midwestern violence: the crucifixion of a high-school boy, or the murder of a farmer by a hooker. Others bend time until it becomes as complex as the characters themselves . . . Virtuosic.”—Leigh Newman, Time Out New York
“David Means revives the American short story in this quietly compelling collection about adulterous Manhattanites, violent train-yard drifters, pensive madmen, and concerned fathers. It’s as if the works of Poe and Kerouac had been rewritten by Cheever.”—Details

“Every reader has a comfort zone. When an author breaks that boundary, the reader is forced to come to terms with the limits of their own adventurous nature. If it sounds as though David Means’s newest collection of short stories, The Spot, forced me into my own literary panic room—if it sounds as though I’m fighting for some sense of ownership over these stories—well, it did, and I am. Means was put on earth to frustrate creative writing teachers and John Gardner evangelists: His characters don’t change. A lot of his action happens in flashback. His violence borders on the grotesque. He can take or leave paragraphs as structural units of composition. And he rarely, if ever, allows for immersion into fiction’s ‘vivid and continuous dream.’ Yet to read The Spot is to understand that these rules were made to be broken—or, in Means’s case, to be pistol whipped, dragged into a quarry, shot twice in the head, and set on fire.”—The Rumpus

“The stories by Means (The Secret Goldfish, 2004, etc.) defy categorization. There are 15 of them in this slim volume, a couple as short as a (long) paragraph, yet they resist the tag of ‘minimalism.’ Instead, they are dense with detail, character and theme, and they connect in some surprising ways that aren’t immediately apparent. The stories within the stories, like the fiction of Means through which they are framed, often have an archetypal quality transcending the characters (many unnamed), as if something immutable in the human condition keeps repeating itself: ‘The story would end and then it would just keep going, the way this one does.’ Though the author teaches at Vassar, these stories have a lot more punch and life than academic, creative-writing exercises."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In three previous collections, Means proved himself a master of the short form, earning comparisons to O’Connor and Carver for his tight, energetic sentences. The 13 luminous stories in his fourth collection are just as strong. Here Means articulates the impulsiveness of angst-driven loners, including the homeless who’ve lost their faith in others and drifters whose only means of survival is their tale, whether true or otherwise. In the title story, a pimp, schooled in the Bible and disguised as a Northern Michigan farmer, tells a client about a girl whose drowning was his fault, and whose father followed her body to Niagara Falls. A group of hoboes swap stories involving knives until one man’s silence betrays his refusal to reveal the tale of revenge that brought him to this place. A man assuming the worst for his ailing son wraps up his son’s old toys and arranges an early Christmas. Darkly comic and rich in language and drama, Means’ cerebral tales are astute, amusing, and companionable.”Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist

"A natural storyteller, Means (The Secret Goldfish) presents 13 nuanced tales of wanderlust and transgression. Hoboes around a campfire spin elaborate yarns in two of the richest stories, offering just enough confession to keep the others' interest: The Blade finds an improbable friendship between an old geezer and a young junkie, culminating in a requisite blade-to-the-throat story; while The Junction pursues a vagrant who begs food at a farmhouse that is strikingly similar to the home he grew up in. The American landscape is vividly sketched in these tales, traversed by the Bonnie-and-Clyde meets Charles Starkweather team of young bank robbers in Nebraska, and the manipulative con man of Oklahoma. Similarly, the title story details a jaunty pimp's shameless exploitation of a girl with a horrific past, culminating in a grim discovery at Niagara Falls. There's not an off note to be found in Means's prose, and he proves to be remarkably adept at locating the sublime in the unseemly."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

The Knocking

Upstairs he stops for a moment, just to let the tension build, and then he begins again, softer at first, going east to west and then east again, heading toward the Fifth Avenue side of the building, pausing to get his bearings, to look out at the view, I imagine, before heading west, pausing overhead to taunt me before going back into motion for a few minutes, setting the pace with a pendulous movement, following the delineation of the apartment walls—his the same as mine, his exactly the same—and then there is another pause, and I lean back

Read the full excerpt





  • David Means

  • David Means was born and raised in Michigan. His second collection of stories, Assorted Fire Events, earned the Los Angles Times Book Prize for fiction and a National Book Critics Circle nomination. His third book, The Secret Goldfish, received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. His fourth book, The Spot, was selected as a 2010 Notable Book by The New York Times, and won an O. Henry Prize. His books have been translated into eight languages, and his fiction has appeared The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, Zoetrope, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and numerous other publications. He lives in Nyack, New York, and teaches at Vassar College.

  • David Means Max Means