Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


by Matthew McIntosh

“An astonishingly sharp and satisfying debut. . . . [McIntosh] is the real thing—a tremendously gifted and supple prose hand, recounting all manner of human distress and extremity in an assured and generous voice, balancing, as all honest practitioners of the fictional art must, the delicately pitched forces of fate, remorse and grace.” —Chris Lehmann, The Washington Post Book World

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 288
  • Publication Date July 16, 2004
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4143-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

With his first novel, Matthew McIntosh “burst onto the national literary scene with a dazzling debut, where low-rent voices and dispirited lives capture the ennui of these troubling times with stark, unadorned prose” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

The denizens of this brilliant novel are boxers, bartenders, and data-entry technicians, fishermen, mothers, and exotic dancers, would-be kings and queens of the punk rock scene, sparemen and gunmen and soon-to-be dead men. What binds them is the Well—that dark barren region of the human heart and mind.

Whether desperately alone or struggling to come together, they grapple with dangerous compulsions and heartrending afflictions, searching for relief, transcendence, or a vehicle up into the light they know must exist. They search in sex, drugs, and violence, and in visions of apocalypse and creation, dreams of angels and killers and local sports championships. Compact, finely wrought, and powerfully charged, Well is a “gritty and intensely original debut” that “crackles and pops with sex, drugs, and violence” (Men’s Journal).

Tags Literary


“Brilliant. . . . [McIntosh] has burst onto the national literary scene with a dazzling debut, where low-rent voices and dispirited lives capture the ennui of these troubling times with stark, unadorned prose. . . . It is as if [Raymond] Carver’s characters and milieu have been updated and made younger, Carver reimagined for twenty-somethings today. . . . This is a novel in which a young writer of unflinching honesty and uncommon maturity is examining important questions about life, death and meaning.” —John Marshall, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“An astonishingly sharp and satisfying debut. . . . [McIntosh] is the real thing—a tremendously gifted and supple prose hand, recounting all manner of human distress and extremity in an assured and generous voice, balancing, as all honest practitioners of the fictional art must, the delicately pitched forces of fate, remorse and grace.” —Chris Lehmann, The Washington Post Book World

“Powerful . . . McIntosh’s greatest strength is his ability to compress narrative to its most unflinchingly painful elements. His vignettes resonate like drunken stories told at high-school reunions of how all those forgotten people turned out: the young romances that ended in anger-management classes, health problems, abortions, phone sex, self-hatred.” —Elizabeth Aoki, The Seattle Times

“McIntosh’s own palette, no surprise, is suitably glaring, violent and unrelentingly drab. The calculated effect is of a kaleidoscope of gray. It’s amazing that this dour hodgepodge—dropouts, barflies, punk rockers, dissatisfied couples and total losers—holds the reader’s attention at all, but it does and startlingly so.” —Mark Rozzo, The Los Angeles Times Book Review

“There are dozens of voices in Matthew McIntosh’s ambitious first novel, a collection of dark vignettes loosely centered around the hard-luck patrons of the Trolley. . . . The scope of [Well] is exciting and fresh.” —Jennifer Reese, The New York Times Book Review

“[McIntosh is] downright heroic—and, much of the time, brilliantly convincing—in his efforts to inhabit (however briefly) the minds of a huge cast of sad Federal Way ne’er-do-wells. . . . That someone so young, and so promising, can so sensitively depict the disappointments of crushed midlife is impressive.” —Mark D. Fefer, Seattle Weekly

“Daringly structured. . . . McIntosh shows a remarkable facility for capturing different voices, the way people speak and think in their most private moments, the circular, stammering way that inarticulate people describe pivotal moments of their lives. . . . Extremely involving and interesting.” —Martha Southgate, The Baltimore Sun

“[A] gritty picaresque. . . . McIntosh is a wonderful stylist.” —David Wiegand, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Inarticulate and drug-addled, these residents of Federal Way come to grief or worse, in McIntosh’s bruising novel of existential despair. In a series of vignettes and clipped bios, he renders the facts that brought them there with an acute ear for each character’s voice and the tragic sense of the ineffable.” —Darren Reidy, Village Voice

“McIntosh’s debut novel is a fresh look at the lives of men and women who have fallen into despair.” —Denver Post

“A compelling read. . . . If you’ve spent any time at all on life’s seamier side, there isn’t a person in this book you won’t recognize. . . . [McIntosh] reminds me of Hubert Selby, Jr. and his novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn.” —Ed Halloran, The Rocky Mountain News

“McIntosh illuminates the dashed dreams and busted hopes of youth on the suburban fringe in a brilliant series of first-person narratives that read, at first glance, like a series of unconnected short stories. McIntosh shows both great empathy and insight into dispirited twenty-something lives in this riveting debut.” —The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The characters . . . [conduct] rapid-fire interior monologues that read like Raymond Carver on crystal meth. . . . The characters in Well are treated with a clear-eyed sensibility that disdains both excessive pathos and false dignity.” —Marc Mohan, Portland Oregonian

“This gritty and intensely original debut . . . crackles and pops with sex, drugs, and violence.” —Men’s Journal

“[McIntosh’s] stories reek of actual experience. . . . A kind of written impressionism. McIntosh’s construct of one-sided conversations is masterful, often handling the subtleties through behavioral descriptions rather than dialogue. . . . An obvious comparison . . . is Raymond Carver’s Short Cuts. Both have their finger on the pulse of Americana.” —Lance Chess, The Portland Mercury

Well delves into an American wasteland and the dejected lives of those who inhabit it. . . . McIntosh’s bold confection of literary styles . . . prove him a gifted new chronicler of quiet desperation.” —Tobin Levy, Nerve.com

“McIntosh’s thoughtful debut illuminates the sometimes dark and drab lives of the residents of Federal Way. . . . He enables us to float into the consciousness of the suffering humans surrounding us every day, and through them, helps us to better understand ourselves.” —Karen Wilson, Black Book

“Matthew McIntosh’s kaleidoscopic novel. . . touches upon the common miseries and wonders of human existence.” —Scott Yarbrough, Salem Press

“[An] unusual, dark debut novel with an ensemble cast. McIntosh assembles different episodes and voices to create an impressionistic tableau of Federal Way. . . . The sustained glide from voice to voice is virtuosic, and the writing is dogged . . . it digs through the clichés and the usual inarticulateness of the stories people tell in bars and grocery store lines; and it stumbles on diamonds in the rough everywhere.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The characters in this impressive debut all need to get a life—and they’re grappling to do so with varying degrees of success. Their struggles to establish meaningful, long-term relationships are limited by insecurities, complexes, drug and alcohol abuse, or impulsive acts. . . . McIntosh will inevitably be compared to Raymond Carver. The structure of his stories tends to be more complex.” —Jim Dwyer, Library Journal

“Matthew McIntosh’s panoramic, sweeping, vastly ambitious debut novel is a wild composite of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, John Updike’s Couples, and Rick Moody’s Garden State. . . . McIntosh offers a beautifully elliptical, fragmented portrait.” —Uncut (UK)

“McIntosh’s straightforward but subtly clever writing renders these miseries in a light too harsh for the reader to ignore, and what might otherwise be maudlin and overwrought instead comes across as an awfully accurate portrayal of dissatisfaction. . . . The slowly mounting isolation and hopelessness of the characters makes for powerful, painful reading.” —John Green, Booklist

“Structured as a series of short stories focused on the working-class Pacific Northwest suburb of Federal Way, Well begins with interlaced narratives revolving around minor obsessions but escalates into more stunning, emotionally rewarding vignettes of profound addiction, heartbreak, and loss.” —Peter Mayo, Square Books, Oxford, MS, Book Sense quote

“At last we’ve found the young writer who will carry us into the new millennium. Matthew McIntosh brilliantly displays the world of today with bleak love, desperate hope, and ruthless compassion. The top writer of his generation.” —Chris Offutt

“A brilliant meditation on the way in which human beings invest in various sorts of meanings—a game, a body (your own or someone else’s), a drug—and how this investment never quite delivers what you thought it would. It’s a verbally pyrotechnic, formally exciting, and emotionally devastating book.” —David Shields

“The humanity of the people sings off the page. They are not characters in a book, but rather living beings with all the hopes, dreams, fears, loves, hates, illusions, and rationalizations that are part of the human dilemma. A book that still resonates in my heart.” —Hubert Selby, Jr., author of Last Exit to Brooklyn


A Los Angeles Times Best Seller
A Book Sense 76 Selection


It’s taking so damn long to get here.

Maybe not always, but a lot of the time. It doesn’t matter where I actually am, it’s all the same. For instance, I could be walking to the mailbox or driving in to work and I will get this thing—not a picture but a sort of perception, this sort of sense, in the same way you imagine the shapes of the walls and the furniture when you’re walking through a familiar dark room, that’s how it is—and I am always struck with the perception that I’m there, at the bottom of a well. And I’ve never even seen a well that I can remember, except for on TV and in movies, but I’ve always felt this way. Meaning, I’ve felt this way about the well since childhood. Or maybe it didn’t happen until adolescence, but there I am. I feel that way right now, I really do.

I mean, I’m looking into your face right now, but somewhere deeper, somewhere behind it all, I could swear that I’m at the bottom of the well. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? My husband tells me I have a constant look of near-absolute abandonment on my face. He says I wear that expression all the time.

So I was at the grocery store the other day—this is what I was supposed to be getting at—I’m sorry, I’ve never been good at getting to the point—I was in line at the grocery store and for some reason I was feeling particularly at ease with myself, and with my situation, the world on this particular day was feeling very adequate, you know, everything was good. For some reason I was looking up at the beams and through the skylight—it was one of those enormous warehouse grocery stores that are springing up all over the place—actually, I think this was the reason: I was contemplating all the ways in which the world changes; or not all the ways it changes, but more specifically, I was contemplating this one particular way that it was changing. I was focusing on the skylight and I was thinking of a time where it was an unheard of thing to have a skylight in a grocery store, not unheard of in a bad sense, just in an unheard of sense; it’s just that nobody’d thought to do it at the time. Why are grocery stores so goddamn big today? Do you know? Are we eating more? Are we all getting fatter? I mean some of these places. . .

Anyway, I guess I was staring up at the skylight—I must have been doing it for a long time—and remember, I’m happy, I really am, I’m having a good day up to this point—and the little thing ringing me up, she all of a sudden stops what she’s doing, and she takes hold of my arm, and she says, “Ma’am, are you all right? Do you need me to call someone?”

Do I need her to call someone? I didn’t know what to say. What would you say? Is there a proper way to answer a question like that? It wasn’t the question she asked that was so shocking, of course, but that I’d been so damn happy when she’d asked the question. I’d been really happy. I hadn’t been that happy in a long time. Jesus, I don’t even know what I was so damn happy about, but I was happy. I said I was fine, a little rudely, probably, and I wrote the check and left the store. I drove home and sat out front in the car for probably twenty minutes, until my daughter came out and asked me what I was doing, and how long I was going to stay in there.