‘Instructions for a Funeral’, Stories by David Means


‘Instructions for a Funeral’ stories, by David Means   (2019) – 189 pages

There are two ways to look at the title ‘Instructions for a Funeral’. One way is to say ‘What a sad gloomy title’. The other way is to remark that David Means is so assured of his skills to interest and entertain us with his stories he can even stick his collection with this dismal title. I will let you know later which of these ways applies to me.

Except for ‘Fistfight, Sacramento; August, 1950’ which is an absolute gem of a story, I preferred the stories in this collection which were less dense and overcrowded. These less dense stories were in the last half of the collection starting with ‘Instructions for a Funeral’ which is another superb story.

Perhaps the most applicable example of a story in the first half of the collection which I feel is over-written is ‘The Chair’, the third story in the collection. In this story, an at-home caregiver father reflects on his wife and on his son whom he is watching as the five year old boy heads toward a dangerous retaining wall. In this story the sentences are long and the paragraphs are long and it was difficult for me to maintain interest.

But overall I felt these stories were well done, fine examples of what can be done with a story today. A few of the stories share themes. Some are stories about men who are stuck in halfway houses or mental hospitals or mission houses, down-and-out men. Also there is a recurring theme of an older man watching a younger man make his own earlier mistakes.

I probably would have left out the two entries that were fragments or not-stories, one which contains three separate reflections on fatherhood in four pages, and one which contemplates Raymond Carver and Kurt Cobain. I would also have lost the five-page introduction called ‘Confessions’.

As far as the gloomy title goes, I think that David Means is just carrying on the time-honored tradition of titling the book after the best story in the collection which happens to be ‘Instructions for a Funeral’. In this story a man realizes his own position in this world is quite precarious and so he writes down detailed instructions for his own funeral. Since the story contains instructions rather than reflections it avoids the pitfalls of being too self-reflective. The story is humorous in its own way.

When I first approached this collection, the stories seemed to be overcrowded and exhausting, the writing seemed to be over the top, overwritten. However by the last story, I felt that perhaps other writers’ stories might be too sparse. A lot goes on in these stories; that’s a good thing.


Grade:    B+


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