Two Nurses, Smoking: Stories by David Means

“BEAUTIFUL Inside that moment—his voice quivering, his eyes welling—the wind was rising and the darker clouds were coming in. His eyes were painfully green as the grief twisted his face and the trees near the road gave off a sugary odor and tenderness formed in the quiet. How long was that moment, held in memory between the two of them for the rest of their lives?”


Two Nurses, Smoking is an exceptional collection of ten short stories from David Means. It took me on a journey of the human condition; the various ways we bond and break, love and lose, and grieve and heal. 

A beautiful dachshund came to life in “Clementine, Carmelita, Dog” as she’s torn between the familiarity of an old life and tempting toward a new one. It’s the moments that her little nose is guiding her, the vivid surroundings portrayed by Means that filled my heart with love. 

In another story, I observed a couple on the brink as they renewed their marital vows. From charged arguments in Manhattan to strolls along O’Connell Street in Dublin, their relationship takes on new meaning with the passage of time. 

“Whatever rumors and hearsay and conjecture floated around our story, whatever people made of it from gathered fragments could only intensify what we had together.” 

Raw and poignant, “Stopping Distance” is a story about the different ways we grieve. A group of strangers coping with death find themselves together at a support group in a church basement.

“Grief comes unevenly, not only in relation to the way the bereaved suffers, unique to each personality, but also in relation to the time through which the pain moves, so that for some, a year is more than enough time, or at least adequate, to return to a semblance of normalcy, whereas for others a year is a blip, a flick, a blink, not enough. Other factors—and they all admitted this, talked about it—include the precise manner of your loss, the horrific but necessary circumstances examined over and over again.”

David Means captures the tender, heartbreaking, and precious moments that exist in our everyday lives. This is a book I will certainly return to again. 

It’s a book I was reminded of recently after reading a story the author wrote for the New York Times: A.I. Can’t Write My Cat Story Because It Hasn’t Felt What I Feel. I recommend reading it, as I do this book.

Courtesy of Macmillan

David Means was born and raised in Michigan. He is the author of five short-story collections, including Instructions for a Funeral, The Spot (a New York Times notable book of the year), Assorted Fire Events (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction), and The Secret Goldfish, and of the novel Hystopia (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize).

His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and other publications. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013, Means lives in Nyack, New York, and teaches at Vassar College.

Two Nurses, Smoking is available for purchase in hardcover and e-book format. Check for a retailer near you.