Francesca Wade at The Financial Times:
In a central scene in David Means’s debut novel, a dead Vietnam veteran delivers a powerful stream of consciousness directly into the mind of his former girlfriend. The horror of war, he explains with bitter resentment, cannot be “caught, bottled up, and taken back to the States”; there’s no fear that can be performed for the camera, no pain that can be massaged into a dispatch that will “make some kind of sense”. Yet after all they’ve gone through, Billy Thompson points out, the dead do not live to tell their own stories: “anything said by them is the pure fiction of the living and nothing more”.
Hystopia is the title of a novel within the novel, the full text of which is bookended by a series of editor’s and author’s notes, alongside fragmentary comments on the manuscript from various acquaintances of the purported author, Eugene Allen, an isolated 22-year-old veteran who has committed suicide. We’re warned from the outset that we may be at the mercy of an unreliable narrator: Allen suffered from a disease whose symptoms often include “delusional historical memories”.