"The Knocking"
by David Means
originally published in the March 15, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

Click for a larger image.

This week’s story is a shorty. In fact, because it was so short, when I had ten minutes to spare I decided to read it online rather than wait for the print version to arrive in the mail. For the first time this year, I have read the story before anyone else commented below!

Sadly, I haven’t got much to report. There’s a frenetic energy to the voice here, one of those where there are few periods and the sentences keep going and going, dragging the reader on. The voice matches the state of the narrator. The whole story is a rant — no, rant is not the right word — a discourse on his upstairs neighbor’s knocking and how it relates to his own failed marriage, the dissolution of which he is still grieving.

I’m anxious to see what others think of the story, because on a quick first read I picked up quite of bit of sexual language in the descriptions and the idea that the narrator himself is doing quite a bit of the knocking. I’m not sure what it means, though, and I didn’t like it enough to want to reread it again, despite its only being a ten minute read. Also, I’m not always so finicky, but in a few short paragraphs the narrator happens to use the word anachronistic twice. I was so surprised at the description of two things as anachronistic that I had to go back a few sentences to see if I’d only imagined the repetition. Admittedly, I wasn’t enjoying the story much by that point anyway, but for some reason the second anachronistic really pulled me out of the story and made me wonder if this was just a sloppy sketch.

I’m sure I’m missing something. Perhaps someone here will help me understand what I missed that helps the story come together.

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By |2016-06-08T18:16:38-04:00March 8th, 2010|Categories: David Means, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |8 Comments


  1. Trevor Berrett March 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    New forum up — this week will take only a few minutes to read, so come and help make the conversation!

  2. Trevor Berrett March 8, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I’ve posted my meager thoughts above. Unfortunately, it isn’t because the story is short that my thoughts are meager.

  3. Joe March 9, 2010 at 1:13 am

    I found this one pretty unpleasant and was really put off by the Proustian excess. If your first sentence is going to clock in at 150 words, there’d better be a good reason for it.

    I know the New Yorker likes to mix it up a bit — different styles, voices, etc. — but this just seemed show-offy. If anything, it’s more of a poem than a story. Well, I’m just glad it was short.

  4. Trevor Berrett March 9, 2010 at 11:51 am

    I wondered about the poetry comparison too, Joe. But I thought against it when I realized that the comparison did no favors to poetry.

  5. KevinfromCanada March 12, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    My reading was probably colored by having read these comments first. I would characterize the story as an extended metaphor, not a particularly good or appropriate one. All in all, a rather lame effort.

  6. Colette Jones March 19, 2010 at 5:05 am

    This is about a man not coping, not coping at all, going mad in fact. He’s transferring his madness onto the resident of the apartment above, but we don’t believe him.

    Good premise, but not good writing, in my opinion. Glad it was short.

  7. heather December 5, 2010 at 1:07 am

    no no, i completely disagree. this was a lyrical snapshot of a man neatly drowning in the wreckage of his life (i infer that his family was his life, or at least that he thinks so at this stage of the proceedings. there’s no hint of how long it’s been since the dissolution of his marriage). in fact i wonder whether he really IS mad, and it’s the madness that ushered in the loss of his family. notice there’s no mention of him ever seeing any of them again- including the kids. a concise, neatly-wrapped gem of a mind in despair.

  8. […] more like “The Knocking,” a story he published in The New Yorker last year (my thoughts here)), but by the end I felt that something was there worth looking into (more like “Tree Line, […]

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