Finalist for the 2023 Joyce Carol Oates Prize
A new collection of stories by David Means, a visionary "master of the form" (The Observer).
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—which have won the O. Henry Prize and the Pushcart Prize, and have been featured in The Best American Short Stories—confirm the promise of a writer who “believes in the power of stories to rescue and redeem people” (Max Liu, Financial Times).
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.
“Death, loss and the ravages of mental illness aren't the ingredients for light entertainment, but they make for a memorable reading experience in the exceptional story collection Two Nurses, Smoking by David Means.”
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“Love does not end when the object of one’s affections disappears. How do we go on? How can we persevere? Such questions sit at the center of this beautiful and complicated book.”
—David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Midway through the title story of his dazzling new collection, Two Nurses, Smoking, David Means suddenly reverses course on the tale you’ve been reading, about two soul-weary health care workers embarking on a tentative romance."
—Jess Walter, The New York Times
"Means explores the parameters of existence in his dazzling latest . . . Readers will revel in this robust collection. "
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"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?"
—Kirkus (starred review)
“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
“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
“Means is one of the most interesting short story writers working today, shining a light on the most intimate moments.”
—Emily Firetog, Literary Hub (Most Anticipated)