Several Doses of Wendy

Robert Baird

  • BuyHystopia by David Means
    Faber, 352 pp, £16.99, May 2016, ISBN 978 0 571 33011 9

David Means wrote a novel. David Means wrote a novel! Reading the hype around Hystopia – the new novel, the first novel, so far the only novel by the American writer David Means – you have to wonder how much pressure Means resisted from his publishers to forswear the pleasures of the customary gnomic cipher (American Enchiridion, The Accidental Occidental) and just call the book that: David Means Wrote a Novel: A Novel Written by David Means. Until now, Means was merely, dare we say meanly, the author of four collections of short stories. Four collections of aching, accomplished and often impeccable short stories, I hasten to add. But they were short stories nonetheless, published at a time when all the big books were big books: the sternum-bruising heavies like Infinite Jest and Underworld and 2666, the multi-volume massifs by Hilary Mantel, Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard. Did it matter that Means (with his wife) was the dedicatee of one of the most celebrated megaliths of the past quarter-century, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections? Of course not. Or that Means had worried, not unreasonably, that the idea of ‘going big and wide for the sake of giving into the possibility’ was for him the succubus of an unholy temptation? No. Did it matter, even, that he was, at his best, as good as anyone, and better than just about everyone, at producing supple, seductive little narratives full of heartwreck, depravity and shivering desolation? Nice try. The verdict was unanimous: he needed a novel.

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