Two story collections aim to sound out the American vernacular
by David Means
Faber & Faber
$23.00 List Price
There are two kinds of people in America. The problem is, we can’t figure out what those are. Maoists and Tea Baggers? PC lovers and Apple devotees? Letterman fans and Leno watchers? While the twoness of our national family is undeniable, the dividing line has proved quite impossible to fix.
Two new story collections provide yet another opportunity to draw a line in the sand, this time between adjacent, yet rarely overlapping, traditions of American storytelling: on one side, the old blood and earth of regional modernism, that evergreen ancestry winding from Cormac McCarthy back to Ken Kesey, William Faulkner, and Sherwood Anderson, among others, that’s known for its projection of biblical moods and images onto the American landscape and of vengeful passions into the citizenry who live there. On the other side, the jauntier tradition of postwar metafiction, an ironic mode exemplified by the likes of Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, George Saunders, and, most recently, the McSweeney’s mafia, shape-shifting pop cultists all. Between these poles—the homebound regionalist and the touristic pop artist—many an author has felt compelled to choose an allegiance.
David Means, the author of three highly regarded story collections, is more the regionalist here, albeit one of a highly sophisticated, formally aggressive order. In long, lyric sentences, thick with nested clauses and parallel constructions, adding up to some enormous paragraphs, he depicts a mythic Rust Belt populated by a menacing subculture of drifters, bank robbers, terrorists, and pimps, many of whom would not be