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The Secret Goldfish: Stories    by David Means Amazon.com order for
Secret Goldfish
by David Means
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover

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* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

David Means' book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, is an unusual collection. The stories are certainly not uplifting, nor do they celebrate the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Instead, they speak of survival, and the ability of people to keep going, however unusual or mundane their lives are.

In 'It Counts as Seeing', the blind man who was pushed (or was it tripped, or did he just fall?) down concrete steps muses on the amazing vision that he experienced while in the hospital recovering from his injuries and how it 'sustained me through it all, kept me alive. It was this vision because it was so good and pure that I count as actually seeing. It makes me want to thank the man who helped me down those steps'.

Some stories tap into individuals' mindsets at a particular point in their lives, while 'The Lightning Man' follows the somewhat bizarre events that befall Nick, the multitude of lightning strikes that he sustains, and his final days living a desultory life waiting for the death-blow. It is all so wearisome and we watch as Nick settles in, letting 'the siege mentality develop'.

The final story in this collection, 'The Secret Goldfish', takes a look at the amazing resilience of the spirit, in this case the goldfish Fish, who has to endure weeks of total neglect while his owners cope with their own emotional heartbreak, anger and resentment before realizing that others are in need of care and attention.

David Means' tales are all somehow tied together as we can usually remember a name or event from another story, linking them even as they are independent of each other. Some stories are amusing but the majority look to the seamier side of life, the despairing and ordinary view of both urban and rural existence, lived but not to be remembered.

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