The Spot, by David Means, Faber RRP £10, 176 pages

The title of David Means’ fourth collection is The Spot but it could equally be “The Moment”. A group of teenagers decides to crucify a classmate; a heist is botched because a beautiful woman walks by; the owner of a paper mill spontaneously combusts. Many of the 13 tales revolve around a single point in time that promises, but fails, to offer clarity or definition to a life. Best laid plans fall prey to the human factor, and, when put to the test, the stories people tell about themselves rarely match reality.

The Spot’s American rust-belt settings and its cast of vagrants, vagabonds and small-time criminals do little to dispel the sense of a benighted world. What brings illumination, and lifts these stories out of the realm of grim realism, is Means’ distinctive voice, revealed in intricate, unfeasibly limber sentences which switch nimbly between various viewpoints. Magisterially detached, wryly aware of the great cosmic joke being played upon the characters, it is also full of compassion.

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