Instructions for a Funeral

Review by Heather Haunert

Instructions for a Funeral written by David Means is a collection of fourteen short stories that have appeared in publications such as The Paris Review, The New Yorker, VICE, and Harper’s. At first it seems as though these short stories are written by the author in memoir form, sharing stories of his life with the reader. That is not the case. This book is merely a collection of tales woven by the author with no central theme.

To give readers an idea of the type of content written in this compilation, I have included a brief synopsis and insight of several of the stories in Instructions for a Funeral.


A man at his dad’s deathbed wants his father to tell him something philosophical and life-altering in the sunset of his life; however, the man is deeply disappointed when his dying father only talks about what hurts.

“Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950”

The author did an amazing job of spinning the tale of a fistfight that, in a roundabout way, starts a relationship between one of the fighters and a young lady spectator. The protagonist of this story is fighting Sutter, a wealthy, privileged brat of the community. A subtle nod from the young woman leads to the ultimate jaw-breaking conclusion. 

“The Chair”

A poignant story revolving around a father and his young son: what it involves, how quickly it goes by, and the memories that stand out from others. The idea of the child having to sit in “the chair” when in trouble will undoubtedly bring back memories from childhood. 

“The Terminal Artist”

This story starts by telling the tragic tale of a young married woman with three young daughters who has cancer and unexpectedly dies after a successful surgery. Years later, it is found out that a male nurse is charged with homicide when he takes life and death into his own hands by mercy killing people, or so he thinks.

“El Morro”

This was quite a story–not in a good way. The main character, Lenny, is a drug addict who is driving and talking incessantly to a young woman passenger. She has absolutely no tolerance or interest in hearing what Lenny has to say. As they travel through several states, eventually Lenny gives drugs to another woman stopping traffic at a mining site. Before you know it, that woman is also in the car with them. The story ends when the trio arrives at a park, and the young woman from the beginning of the story is left alone. 

Reading is all about personal opinion. I like to stretch myself as a reader and try different genres and authors. I struggled a great deal with this book. I didn’t feel like there was any rhyme or reason to the stories, no continuity. Some of the stories really pulled me in, but would ultimately fall disastrously apart by the end.

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