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Potted Meat

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Potted Meat, a novel set in a decaying town in southern West Virginia, follows a young boy into adolescence as he struggles with abusive parents, poverty, alcohol addiction, and racial tensions. Using fragments as a narrative mode to highlight the terror of ellipses, Potted Meat explores the fear, power, and vulnerability of storytelling, and in doing so, investigates the Potted Meat, a novel set in a decaying town in southern West Virginia, follows a young boy into adolescence as he struggles with abusive parents, poverty, alcohol addiction, and racial tensions. Using fragments as a narrative mode to highlight the terror of ellipses, Potted Meat explores the fear, power, and vulnerability of storytelling, and in doing so, investigates the peculiar tensions of the body: How we seek to escape or remain embodied during repeated trauma.


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Potted Meat, a novel set in a decaying town in southern West Virginia, follows a young boy into adolescence as he struggles with abusive parents, poverty, alcohol addiction, and racial tensions. Using fragments as a narrative mode to highlight the terror of ellipses, Potted Meat explores the fear, power, and vulnerability of storytelling, and in doing so, investigates the Potted Meat, a novel set in a decaying town in southern West Virginia, follows a young boy into adolescence as he struggles with abusive parents, poverty, alcohol addiction, and racial tensions. Using fragments as a narrative mode to highlight the terror of ellipses, Potted Meat explores the fear, power, and vulnerability of storytelling, and in doing so, investigates the peculiar tensions of the body: How we seek to escape or remain embodied during repeated trauma.

30 review for Potted Meat

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meg Tuite

    Please don't let this one fall between the cracks of whatever shit keeps you from it!!! This is brilliant, mesmerizing, and unforgettable! Dunn rocks it in every way! Get a copy of 'Potted Meat'!!!! Here are some quotes and let me tell you there are no weak lines!!! This novel brings to life a neighborhood, a family, a life, a way to exist!!! One of the best I've read in a long while! PLOT "Miss Janice died this morning. She fell asleep and crashed her car into the creek. They don't know if she drowne Please don't let this one fall between the cracks of whatever shit keeps you from it!!! This is brilliant, mesmerizing, and unforgettable! Dunn rocks it in every way! Get a copy of 'Potted Meat'!!!! Here are some quotes and let me tell you there are no weak lines!!! This novel brings to life a neighborhood, a family, a life, a way to exist!!! One of the best I've read in a long while! PLOT "Miss Janice died this morning. She fell asleep and crashed her car into the creek. They don't know if she drowned or died on impact. Mr. Ray died yesterday. He just died. The day before yesterday Malik died. He was driving and fell asleep and got hit by a semi. Lord I tell ya, Grandma says, Death happens in threes. Does she mean only people. Only people we know, or people in general. If it's people we know she might be wrong because Aunt Ruth died last Friday. I want to die on impact. If she means people in general, that might be wrong too because all those people just died at that school in Colorado. I think the news said 12, or 21. Either way, 12 or 21 are multiples of 3."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zack

    Potted Meat‘s author Steven Dunn is a recurring visitor to the monthly FBomb flash fiction series at the Mercury Cafe, on occasion serving as host, and the incomparable nature of his first offering may stand as testament to the excellence of the FBomb series, and the disparate authors collected under that banner. Dunn’s book is set in a decaying town in West Virginia, and while the narrative is contiguous, the action unfolds elliptically, in fluttering shots, like a reel of film unwinding. The r Potted Meat‘s author Steven Dunn is a recurring visitor to the monthly FBomb flash fiction series at the Mercury Cafe, on occasion serving as host, and the incomparable nature of his first offering may stand as testament to the excellence of the FBomb series, and the disparate authors collected under that banner. Dunn’s book is set in a decaying town in West Virginia, and while the narrative is contiguous, the action unfolds elliptically, in fluttering shots, like a reel of film unwinding. The reel is divided into three segments, 1. LIFT TAB 2. PEEL BACK 3. ENJOY CONTENTS. The author’s voice is spare and evenly balanced, conveying essentials without overstating. “Every day after me and Grandad sit on the porch and eat fried green tomatoes, my cousin teaches me how to draw.” That’s the first sentence. “I get in the car, nod at Leonard and Dee. And my recruiter pulls off.” Those are the last two, as the protagonist is whisked off into a new life away from his moribund roots. In between them is one of the best original works of prose this reporter has come across locally since the halcyon days of Don Becker and Phillip Duncan, speaking as a former insider, not that there’s any comparison between any one of these writers to another, but that each embodies a level of worth accessible to all, despite their differences, one to another. To which this reporter will add that his discovery of the greatness of FBomb was truly encouraging as to the notion of hidden pockets of greatness persisting irrepressibly in Denver, whether or not one pays attention. What! Potted Meat is a perceptibly heartfelt work, presumably largely or entirely based in personal experience, Dunn having been young in West Virginia himself, and has tangible impact on the reader, as here: Everyone is downstairs crying. I walk upstairs to Grandma’s room. It is dark. Her dirty pink house shoes are lined up by the nightstand like she just got into bed. The covers on her side are pulled back like she just got out of bad. I leave and ask my mom how Grandma died. My mom says she just turned yellow and died, What, I say. You heard me, she says, she just turned yellow and died. I will never eat dandelions again. That’s the entirety of a chapter in Potted Meat called “Yellow.” Dunn’s writing is CONTINUED AT THE LINK BELOW http://www.examiner.com/review/potted...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    This book will stay with me forever. Brutal and touching, Dunn has peeled back the lid and revealed the potted meat that was a bleak childhood. Absolutely haunting.

  4. 4 out of 5

    C.L.

    Goddamn, what a beautiful book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    O'Brian Gunn

    I was excited as all get out to read Potted Meat after meeting Steven at an open mic in Denver. His unadulterated, full-bodied personality shines through in every word of his work, refreshingly so. I was born and raised in Alabama, and while Potted Meat didn't necessarily remind me of exact memories of my childhood, it contained the essence of the environment I grew up in. The main character and I don't come from the exact same background, but we did come from similar circumstances. Something I I was excited as all get out to read Potted Meat after meeting Steven at an open mic in Denver. His unadulterated, full-bodied personality shines through in every word of his work, refreshingly so. I was born and raised in Alabama, and while Potted Meat didn't necessarily remind me of exact memories of my childhood, it contained the essence of the environment I grew up in. The main character and I don't come from the exact same background, but we did come from similar circumstances. Something I really enjoyed about this book is the fragmented narrative, the vignettes that give the reader a potent idea of who this character is. Some lines were unexpected (for all the right reasons) and gnawed at my eyes for a few minutes before I could move on. While I would have loved to take an even deeper dive into the inner workings of the main character, I also realize that it may have been a bit too painful for him to take a deeper dive into how his childhood and the people in it have truly impacted him and his psyche, that may be something that has to wait until a time and place when he's ready. Steven, you've got a reader for life here. Keep doin' whatcha doin', and I'll keep reading and sharing the Potted Gospel.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Robert Vaughan

    This book blew me away. I've had the great fortune of reading with author Steven Dunn on two, perhaps more, occasions. I'm always stunned by his work read aloud, and his words on the page do not disappoint. These linked stories, in short verse chapters, are set in West Virginia, and are resilient testimonials about a narrator who rises above so many struggles and trauma that exists in every twist and turn. I'm so grateful for this book, Potted Meat, and to know Steven personally makes me feel al This book blew me away. I've had the great fortune of reading with author Steven Dunn on two, perhaps more, occasions. I'm always stunned by his work read aloud, and his words on the page do not disappoint. These linked stories, in short verse chapters, are set in West Virginia, and are resilient testimonials about a narrator who rises above so many struggles and trauma that exists in every twist and turn. I'm so grateful for this book, Potted Meat, and to know Steven personally makes me feel all the more complete.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Lamb

    Potted Meat is one of those books I will re-read every few months as a supreme example of how to write, what I want to write, and why I want to write. Steven Dunn's writing is so thick with life: the uncanny beauty of detritus; the sting of rejections and betrayals from people we want to be generous toward; the accumulations of shadows we grasp at and try to fit over our own; all the things that we try to re-live, and re-channel, and be to fulfill those we love; the longing and hilarity in our a Potted Meat is one of those books I will re-read every few months as a supreme example of how to write, what I want to write, and why I want to write. Steven Dunn's writing is so thick with life: the uncanny beauty of detritus; the sting of rejections and betrayals from people we want to be generous toward; the accumulations of shadows we grasp at and try to fit over our own; all the things that we try to re-live, and re-channel, and be to fulfill those we love; the longing and hilarity in our attempts to communicate.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    I would give Potted Meat six stars, if I could. Dunn's debut novel is poetic, hilarious, heartbreaking, and beautiful, often all at once. Do yourself a favor and read this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Scott Mcclanahan

    This is so great. Loved it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bud Smith

    Phenomenal book. Stephen Dunn's Potted Meat is so damn potent, tough, wild, and beautiful. It's told in vignettes of 500 words or so, give or take, but the way Stephen Dunn writes, his five hundred words are worth other people's 5000 words. Mostly this book is a coming of age story, set in West Virginia. My favorite part of Potted Meat was when the young narrator decides he wants to be a ninja, so he leaves in the night to try and find the ninja on the mountain with the campfire. When he gets to Phenomenal book. Stephen Dunn's Potted Meat is so damn potent, tough, wild, and beautiful. It's told in vignettes of 500 words or so, give or take, but the way Stephen Dunn writes, his five hundred words are worth other people's 5000 words. Mostly this book is a coming of age story, set in West Virginia. My favorite part of Potted Meat was when the young narrator decides he wants to be a ninja, so he leaves in the night to try and find the ninja on the mountain with the campfire. When he gets to the campfire he finds out that the ninja isn't what he thought it'd be. And yeah, that's life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    I love the prose.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mridula

    A very interesting read. Steven Dunn gives the reader a splintered glimpse into a boy's poor and violent childhood. There are some sweet moments and some horror, some 'wow's and some mm-hmms. I found a rhythm in Dunn's creative writing. At times it felt like I was reading a stanza or a song. The language was purposeful and the stories, memorable.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

    Dunn's words ride right on top of the pulse of the story. It's all so vivid; it felt like I could reach out and touch it, just so real. I love his narrative voice too. Whether humorous, insightful, or brutal, and there's all of that at various times and more, I could read whatever Dunn is saying all day. It's some damn fine writing and an excellent book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    F(r)iction

    Steven Dunn answered questions over on our forum as our Celebrity Mentor: http://tetheredbyletters.com/author-q... You can also read our interview with Steven Dunn here: http://tetheredbyletters.com/author-q... Steven Dunn answered questions over on our forum as our Celebrity Mentor: http://tetheredbyletters.com/author-q... You can also read our interview with Steven Dunn here: http://tetheredbyletters.com/author-q...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    An elliptical catalog of hurt. I wish this had continued further into his escape from circumstances.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brice Maiurro

    I’ve met Steven Dunn only one time. He was smoking a cigarette outside of the Mercury Cafe after the locally renowned F Bomb Flash Fiction Open Mic. He told me and a group huddled up in the cold how his book had recently been picked up for publication. He spoke humbly about it, but you could see the excitement in his face through it all; the cold, the lights of the Mercury Cafe hanging over us, the cigarette smoke. The book, published by Tarpaulin Sky Press, is called Potted Meat, a novel in the I’ve met Steven Dunn only one time. He was smoking a cigarette outside of the Mercury Cafe after the locally renowned F Bomb Flash Fiction Open Mic. He told me and a group huddled up in the cold how his book had recently been picked up for publication. He spoke humbly about it, but you could see the excitement in his face through it all; the cold, the lights of the Mercury Cafe hanging over us, the cigarette smoke. The book, published by Tarpaulin Sky Press, is called Potted Meat, a novel in the form of a few dozen short stories, and I can tell you from my weekly recommendations of it to friends, family, strangers on the light rail, anyone willing to listen really, that the title garners some interesting reactions. People have said everything to me from “What the heck is potted meat?” to “Gross…” To all of them, I reaffirm, “I know, but read the book.” The cover art, pictured above, is no less off-putting. It would be sleek and almost sexy if not for the giant chunk of meat with strangeness protruding from it at all angles. In my opinion, Dunn couldn’t have picked a better title and image for his first novel – which is as sentimental as it is jarring. Through the short episodic pieces in Potted Meat, Dunn establishes a narrative of coming-of-age in West Virginia. One such story is “Happy Little Trees” which Dunn begins: Bob Ross is on. He has paint. I don’t. These short sentences comprise a large part of the novel. Simple, but full of strong, cut-and-dry imagery. Swift, deep punches that minimalist writers like Hemingway would be proud of. Dunn goes on to describe how he pulls in whatever he can from nature, including grasshoppers for green ink, and dandelions for yellow ink, to make up for his lack of paint. Even in the gritty images of a young boy desperate enough for colors that he is eating bugs, we begin to see a picture of what growing up without might have looked like for Dunn. A theme continued in several instances, including the eating of the titular potted meat. Jumping into the novel, short stories like “Happy Little Trees” might seem random, but it’s a mistake to think that Dunn doesn’t want to leave the reader with a certain sense of confusion. Where the real power in Potted Meat comes into play is when the images that Dunn has written into your memory in permanent ink come back to bite you in the butt. One such example is in “Yellow” where Dunn retells the story of finding his grandmother had died. When asking his mom what happened she says “…she just turned yellow and died.” Dunn, in response, vows “to never eat dandelions again.” Dunn’s language is the kind of simple that when you’re done with the novel you might think to yourself, “I could have written that,” but the amount of power in the intentionally terse and often child-like language of the book is something that is not so easily filtered from head to paper. Between the short sentences, the anecdotal reprisal of memories and the dark humor hiding beneath Dunn’s matter-of-fact presentation is a true craft and authenticity that can drive any reader to care about the day-to-day plight of a young boy coming of age through all sorts of strange adversity. I think back to meeting Dunn before ever reading this breakthrough novel. I think about the humble way he took drags from that cigarette, shirking off our excitement of the news of his book finding a publisher. That humility, that quiet genius is what sneaks up on you in each intentional word and each short story, some of which are no longer than a page, between the front and back cover of Potted Meat. Steven Dunn has created something worthwhile that shows a true dedication to capturing the feelings of his childhood and putting them in a small tin can for us to digest, one harsh bite at a time. I guess, in short, Steven Dunn is on. His writing has paint. Yours don’t.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julia T

    Steven Dunn's book, Potted Meat, is made up of story bits detailing the protagonist's coming of age in a small town in West Virginia with rich environmental and cultural themes including violence, race, addition, sex, gender, etc. The book is divided into three sections, each beginning with an instructional sentence on how to digest the potted meat/ the prose accompanied by the titles of each vignette. The vignettes sear and the titles are absolutely perfect, begging the question --did Dunn righ Steven Dunn's book, Potted Meat, is made up of story bits detailing the protagonist's coming of age in a small town in West Virginia with rich environmental and cultural themes including violence, race, addition, sex, gender, etc. The book is divided into three sections, each beginning with an instructional sentence on how to digest the potted meat/ the prose accompanied by the titles of each vignette. The vignettes sear and the titles are absolutely perfect, begging the question --did Dunn right the titles first? second? did he match them with the vignettes. Dunn's prose is most powerful in it's piercing precision, ruthless matter-of-factness, vivid imagery, and what's held back and not said, which illuminates the themes and what's being said in such a poignant way. When reading, the reader doesn't get every detail, just enough, and the blank space provides room to breath and digest the grotesque, violent, scathing potted meat.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Josh Dale

    It only took me this long to read because I wanted to find the right time to actually finish it. This small-town novel told in vignettes is large and proud while also grossly human and real. Some parts yearn for change, some for complacency, while some are just living life in this world so close to home.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kenning Jean-Paul García

    A coming of age story with all the dirt and grime attached. Dunn doesn't turn away from the nasty bits and yet still there's a lot of silliness and happiness tucked into a sort of sad tale. If you grew up poor and black, then this is the John Hughes sort of book for you.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bob Raymonda

    Holy fucking shit Potted Meat absolutely blew me away. Crushed this book in a few hours. It makes me want to get back to work on a million little projects. It makes me want to write a hundred pieces of flash. Such an awesome experience.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kalen

    **** 1/2 I would give this book five stars if not for the awful cover which I actually had to cover up while I read it. Fantastic writing and story, reminiscent of Jacqueline Woodson.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Martens

    There's more poetry than plot on these aching bones, along with tender life, rancid death, and lots and lots of promise. Thank you, Salem Public Library, for the suggestion.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Not what I expected. Disappointed

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ben Niespodziany

    I read this back in 2017 and I still think about it. Where every page, every paragraph, every sentence packs a punch.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    It's rare to read something that feels new, or maybe just feels. This feels a lot, and rare. I want to read it again. Not to clarify or notice something new but to just be in Dunn's language again.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bram

    Excellent all around. The kind of book you don’t really put down, but also short and perfect.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Adam Ross

    Beautiful. Everyone needs to read this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Schantz

    I did my best to savor this gem of a book, yet I still read it much faster than I'd wanted because I just couldn't put it down. That said I know this will be a book I return again and again the way I return to books like Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman, PUSH by Sapphire, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Alison, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Winter Birds by Jim Grimsley, Cruddy by Lynda Barry, and The Meat & Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom. I've alr I did my best to savor this gem of a book, yet I still read it much faster than I'd wanted because I just couldn't put it down. That said I know this will be a book I return again and again the way I return to books like Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman, PUSH by Sapphire, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Alison, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Winter Birds by Jim Grimsley, Cruddy by Lynda Barry, and The Meat & Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom. I've already made extensive lists of what excerpts to teach for what themes or perspectives. I'm just glad I read it and that I have someone like Steven Dunn writing in the same basic writing community as I am. The narrator's voice is authentic and unflinching. Every time he takes a sip of the woodpile moonshine you worry, but you also feel the hot flash of temporary relief, and you understand what this is: survival. The setting--a "decaying town in West Virginia"--reminded me of the rural hollers in eastern Tennessee (Cocke County) where I had my daughter, only that decaying third world America was white. And I was an outsider when I lived there. Like Esperanza in Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, the narrator of Potted Meat does get out, but unlike Mango Street, it's not as clear as to whether he will be saved or not since his out is the Navy. Nonetheless, Potted Meat is still a kuntslerroman of homespun rap lyrics and landscapes painted from the grime of shared bathwater. The voice and protagonist's goodness carries the reader through the brutality of the character's reality. Despite the neglect and the abuse, the poison ivy cloaked world, the dog-shit covered basements, the crack-cocaine, and all the snakes, the narrator dreams of being an architect, of going to Japan, and drafts blue prints for his future HOME. To read Potted Meat is to glimpse the sanctuary inside this boy Steven Dunn has delivered; it is to remember the importance of reverie, of dreaming, and of art. I was reminded of Man's Search for Meaning and how Frankl proposed that those who survived the Holocaust survived because they were able to maintain a rich inner life. The fragmented prose Dunn employed does indeed highlight the abrasive world of Potted Meat, but the vignettes he's painted also build until at last they reveal the world within the narrator, the world inside his heart, in such a radiant way this world eclipses the exterior chaos. You must read this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    The synopsis is accurate so I won't reiterate that here. Like Dunn, the narrator of this story is from West Virginia and ends up going into the Navy. I like the idea of novel that has both fictional and autobiographical elements. I'm also a fan of Dunn's style. The novel was written as a series of vignettes and Dunn writes in very concise but sensory way. The excerpt in Granta is excellent (if you have access to it) but the excerpt in Columbia can also give you an idea about how this story is to The synopsis is accurate so I won't reiterate that here. Like Dunn, the narrator of this story is from West Virginia and ends up going into the Navy. I like the idea of novel that has both fictional and autobiographical elements. I'm also a fan of Dunn's style. The novel was written as a series of vignettes and Dunn writes in very concise but sensory way. The excerpt in Granta is excellent (if you have access to it) but the excerpt in Columbia can also give you an idea about how this story is told: http://columbiajournal.org/fiction-th...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Barrett

    Elliptical stories told from the perspective of a child growing up in rural WV. While each "story" (or chapter or whatever Dunn prefers to call them, not sure) speaks to the others, they also stand up on their own just fine. Potted Meat is a quick read with a strong, authentic, and intimate sense of place.

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