David Means is widely acknowledged as being a master storyteller, and with his collection titled The Secret Goldfish he lives up to his reputation. The theme of his fifteen-story collection seems to be sadness, but it is a sadness that oftentimes is not shared by his characters but is projected upon the story by the readers themselves.
Means’s stories blend the weird in a way that is almost folksy. “Lighting Man” tells of Nick, who is struck by lighting eight times in the course of his lifetime, while “Elyria Man” relates how some people are dug up from the ground like potatoes. Other tales, such as “Dustman Appearances To Date” and “Michigan Death Trip,” come across as odd nonfiction accounts that one might read in the local paper.
Several of these stories are related in non-traditional ways that make them stand out. “It Counts As Seeing” tells of the fall of a blind man on a flight of stairs from many different viewpoints. “Counterparts” tells the story of an affair, with each section starting as “A),” “B),” “C),” et cetera all the way to “Z).” In “Petrouchka [With Omissions]” a pianist is losing the gift to play because of illness; while the story relates in first person, it is interrupted by third person sections that fill in what is missing (since memory is selective, one can see both versions here for a more complete picture). While almost all the tales come across as sad, the title story at the end offers hope, and since it closes the book it sheds light on an otherwise dark (but well written) collection.
The Secret Goldfish is well worth the time involved.