David Means

Unique, deeply personal and visionary, an extraordinary work of fiction, written in conversation with some of the greatest war narratives, from The Iliad to the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Date Published
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At the bitter end of the 1960s, after surviving multiple assassination attempts, President John F. Kennedy has created a vast federal agency, the Psych Corps, dedicated to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene by any means necessary. Soldiers returning from Vietnam have their battlefield traumas “enfolded”-wiped from their memories through drugs and therapy-while veterans too damaged to be enfolded roam at will in Michigan, evading the Psych Corps and reenacting atrocities on civilians.

This destabilized, alternate version of American history is the vision of the twenty-two-year-old veteran Eugene Allen, who has returned from Vietnam to write the book at the center of Hystopia, the long-awaited first novel by David Means. In Hystopia, Means brings his full talent to bear on the crazy reality of trauma, both national and personal. Outlandish and tender, funny and violent, timely and historical, Hystopia invites us to consider whether our traumas can ever be truly overcome. The answers it offers are wildly inventive, deeply rooted in its characters, and wrung from the author’s own heart

Critic Reviews

Hystopia is a thrilling novel - daring, immensely readable and also unexpectedly funny. David Means is that lucky (and brilliant) writer: a man in full possession of a vision.

Richard Ford
Critic Reviews

Brilliant. Nothing but. Hystopia goes straight to the heart of the American darkness, that most strange and twisted place where our wars, those perfect storms of high-tech mayhem and idiot blunder, cohabit with what we love to advertise as our virtue, our freedoms, our God-blessed mission to save the world. David Means's extraordinary book bends history-to paraphrase one of the novel's characters-no less violently than we've bent ourselves with our non-stop warmaking of the past fifty years.

Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Critic Reviews

Brilliant . . . the writing is beautiful and exuberant, moving and funny, and always one step ahead. The descriptions of getting stoned are as vivid as the landscapes. Means's characters live in a state of constant sensory attention that keeps them always attuned to the texture of tar, the smell of lakes and trees, the taste of carbon

Christine Smallwood, Harper's
Critic Reviews

A riveting, hypnotic dystopia of Vietnam combat veterans during the (fictional) second JFK administration. Amazing writing-not for the faint of heart. Nuggets of beauty glowing in a pan of pain.

Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America
Critic Reviews

Means' work is precise, relentless, unsentimental, an art of missed opportunities and missed connections, tracing, more than anything, the inevitability of loss. These same themes mark his first novel but in a manner we haven't seen before. It's not just the difference between long and short, although one of the pleasures of this dark and complex work is to see Means stretch out. Even more, however, it's the novel's manic energy, its mix of realism and satire... this is not a traditional narrative. Rather, it offers a mélange of reference points-Starkweather, John Kennedy Toole (the novel is constructed as a book within a book, written by a suicide), and even, with its editor's notes and contextual material, Nabokov-set in a world that has unraveled in its own apocalyptic way... Means' first novel is a compelling portrait of an imagined counterhistory that feels entirely real.

Kirkus Review (starred review)
Critic Reviews

Means delivers his long-anticipated debut novel, a compelling, imaginative alternative-history tale about memory and distress... By turns disturbing, hilarious, and absurd, Means' novel is also sharply penetrating in its depiction of an America all too willing to bury its past.

Booklist (starred review)

David Means’ books have been translated into eight languages and his fiction has appeared in numerous publications. Assorted Fire Events won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction and a National Book Critics Circle nomination. The Secret Goldfish was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. The Spot was a 2010 Notable Book by the New York…

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