Two nurses meet in the hospital parking lot to share a cigarette. They flirt and imagine a future together. They tell stories of patients lost and patients saved, of the darkest corners of human suffering and the luminous moments that break through, even here, in the shadow of death.
In David Means’s virtuosic new collection, time unfolds in unexpected ways: a single, quiet moment swells with the echoes of a widower’s complicated marriage; a dachshund, given a new name and a new life by a new owner, catches the scent of the troubled man who previously abandoned her; young lovers become old; estranged couples return to their vows; and those who have died live on in perpetuity in the memories of those whom they touched.
The stories in this collection—winners of the O. Henry Prize and the Pushcart Prize, and selected for The Best American Short Stories in 2021—confirm the promise of a writer who extends “the profound empathy of his attention to those who need it most” (Justin Taylor, The New York Times Book Review). A revelatory meditation on trauma and catharsis, isolation and communion, Two Nurses, Smoking reflects the dislocations and anguish of our age, as well as the humanity and humor that buoy us.
“Two Nurses, Smoking is Means at his best—intelligent, often funny, always beautiful . . . This is a remarkable book not just about grief, but about the moments of brightness that punctuate it, making it both easier and, somehow, even more painful.”—Michael Schaub, Star Tribune
“Means is one of the most interesting short story writers working today, shining a light on the most intimate moments.”—Emily Firetog, Literary Hub
“David Means taught many in my generation how to make the painfully idiosyncratic wonder of his short stories feel weighted like novels. In Two Nurse, Smoking, Means has offered us his most finely crafted, soulfully achy collection. No writer writes better about the gory gaps between folks who claim to love each other. Shockingly well written.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: A Memoir
“David Means’s new stories are filled with sly wit and quiet brilliance. I left them feeling as if I’d traveled across vast territories of longing and loss led by an expert guide.”—Jenny Offill, author of Weather
“The stories in Two Nurses, Smoking are classic David Means tales, told with brilliant and stylish precision.”—Emma Cline, author of Daddy and The Girls
"There’s nothing quite like a David Means story . . . Means is a genius of the fragment . . . [Two Nurses, Smoking is a] remarkable set of stories, which seek to destabilize the illusions of fiction even as they embrace and heighten them. How does he do it? Let’s call it presence, both that of the characters and of the writer, whose language lives and grows by such an interplay . . . These brilliant stories exist in the space between desire and complication."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Means explores the parameters of existence in his dazzling latest . . . Readers will revel in this robust collection."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
CLEMENTINE, CARMELITA, DOG
A middle-aged dachshund with a short-haired, caramel-colored coat scurried along a path, nervously veering from one side to the other, stopping to lower her nose to the ground, to catch traces of...