The first novel by Matthew McIntosh

[Well by Matthew McIntosh. Paperback book cover art.]

Matthew McIntosh . Well
Grove Press


A Los Angeles Times Bestseller

Also by Matthew McIntosh: theMystery.doc
(October, 2017)


[ “Matthew 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. [His] characters are not, as are so many of their counterparts in postmodern fiction, appointed to feel bad in pat and ambient excercises of self-disarming humiliation. They are, rather, tugging insistently at questions that stretch far beyond the horizons of Federal Way, and indeed of their lives at large. It’s… heartening that an author as young as McIntosh would be wise enough to grant his creations such vulnerability and spiritual dignity. [Well] is an astonishingly sharp and satisfying debut.”


[ “[A] bold and brilliant first novel.


[ “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. This book is a real joy to experience… and it is an experience, a wonderfully human experience. A book that still resonates in my heart.”  

Hubert Selby, Jr., author of Last Exit to Brooklyn

[ “The alluring possibility exists with the opening of every debut book. Perhaps this will produce the discovery of a fresh new voice, an original talent, a rising star on a steep trajectory. But so seldom are those hopes realized. More of the same is the usual order of the reading day.

But that is definitely not the case with Matthew McIntosh and his brilliant new novel, Well. The 26-year-old Federal Way native 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. This is not a novel in which a young writer is slumming in society's margins for some literary effect. This is a novel in which a young writer of unflinching honesty and uncommon maturity is examining important questions about life, death and meaning. Well is a indelible debut portrait of disaffection and disillusion by a Seattle writer of great promise.”  

[ “[Well] heralds the arrival of a distinctive new voice in American fiction.”


[ “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. Well is a great book… McIntosh is the new outlaw of American literature, the top writer of his generation.”

Chris Offutt, author of Kentucky Straight

[ “An astonishing novel… I feel the urge to quote the whole book, that's how good is… overwhelming… combines a brilliant style with keen observations and the joy of storytelling… I could not stop reading.


[Well is pitch-perfect. Although the prose is beautiful, moving and spare, Well is not a light read… From section to section, an entirely new cast of characters appears, often unrelated, rarely to be revisited… characters like the teenager, Fishboy, who stalks a girl he's infatuated with, unaware because he loves her that what he's doing is harmful. Or we have Helen, a senior, who is dying. After a long, happy life, she wishes for a speedy end, then lingers, ill and praying in vain to have it over with. And there is Charlie, my favourite, who longs for a straight-looking gay partner like himself… Together, McIntosh's compassion for his characters and his relentless reportage of their failings tests both our capacity to care and our tolerance.

Past tragedies, addictions, a sense of profound abandonment or helplessness, poverty, grief, raging desire, ego, mental illness, injury, fear, abuse, isolation, betrayal, poor health and depression make just part of the catalogue of weaknesses that encourages characters to harm each other and themselves. “Sometimes I think we're bound by the parts of ourselves that we have the least control of,” one narrator says late in the book.

McIntosh has a rare talent for showing us how to read in a new way. At some point, I began to see beyond the heartache, beyond the tragedies, to find something to hold onto that would get me through. By comparison, or perhaps out of necessity, the intimacies in Well are made twice as valuable. “And they talked to each other during sex and called each other names and she liked it,” McIntosh writes about a couple that broke up. “And he let her be the man sometimes. A woman could be a man as well as a man could. Because a woman knows the difference.” Well is a grim painful world filled with the mystery of life, both in its randomness, chaos and order, and in its preciousness, its vulnerable existence. I'm thankful for Matthew McIntosh. He makes no apologies…”


[ “A brilliant meditation on the way in which human beings invest in various sorts of meaning…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, author of Reality Hunger

[ “A remarkable debut… a kaleidoscopic portrait of mainstream people… what a trip!”


[ “ ★★★★★   Matthew McIntosh's panoramic, sweeping, vastly ambitious debut novel… offers a beautifully elliptical, fragmented portrait of Federal Way, a suburb of Seattle. He presents a long cycle of chapters, some two pages long, some a dozen, scores of narrators cutting in and out, speaking as little as a few lines and then vanishing forever. Reading this book is like walking through a crowd, catching snippets of conversation, glimpses into other lives. Everybody involved is living in –the well—, a state of inertia defined by the bombed-out wife whose voice opens the book:

It doesn't matter where I actually am, it's all the same. I'm there, at the bottom of the well.

Throughout, McIntosh portrays hell in life: characters do drugs, rot in stale bars, numb feelings with prescription medication, watch porno videos after their wives have gone to bed, fret over bills they can't pay, negotiate unwanted pregnancies, slobber in strip joints, drift aimlessly. It's no wonder that early in the book McIntosh unleashes this quote from the Bible as a narrative sign-post:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.

And ultimately, that's what this astonishing book is about: compassion and love, suffering and redemption. And by the end, you're wrung out and bewildered, having been dragged through something huge, something miraculous, punch drunk on all the love and squalor.


[ “In Well I find the necessary prose fiction of now. I remember a time in my life when I could not stop reading the works of Peter Handke, because there, and only there, could I find the serious angels of the ordinary world in their extraordinary real peril. How wonderful it is to me, then, that a contemporary American— Matthew McIntosh—has brought these angels home to our language and our own profligate ordinariness and sublimes.”

Donald Revell, author of Pennyweight Windows

[ “[It] is evident that Well is deeply embedded in the world it depicts. The gaze that sees individual character and the surrounding world with such clarity is part of the landscape it observes. A first book of daring and accomplishment, Well gives us reason to look forward to Matthew McIntosh's future career as a writer.”


["Early praise for Matthew McIntosh’s debut novel proves to be justified. Well is a startlingly original first novel, with the sort of energy and grace that distinguishes truly unusual work.


[ “It’s entirely to his credit that McIntosh manages to establish both separate identity and common voice in sometimes just a few lines. It’s about courage of the everyday, unnoticed kind, about being trapped, knowing the score, and still hanging in there anyway, because in the end that’s all there really is to do. And at only 26, that’s not only unexpected, but actually pretty astonishing.”


[ “★★★★★ What's amazing about Well is the speed and the economy… A human personality is built up and picked apart and you look back to find that the whole thing has been done in three pages. Then we leave that character behind, in his pickup truck or her hospital bed, and go off in search of someone else… It is exhilarating to read. This really is fiction of the highest order. Parts of it are so vivid that in later life, you might remember bits and think that you lived them.”


[ “[Well] enables us to float into the conciousnesses of the suffering humans surrounding us every day, and through them helps us to better understand ourselves.


[ “You meet people in this novel and then they drop away. They may show up again 80 pages later or maybe they’ll never reappear. The fragmentary nature of the book echoes their lives, like broken pieces of a mirror.”


[ “In his stunning debut novel Well, 26-year-old author Matthew McIntosh writes with a calm, almost anthropological solemnity about a loose collection of lost souls living in a suburb of Seattle called Federal Way. Everyone he writes about is damaged or broken or empty in some crucial way, but McIntosh never goes near bathos or melodrama. It's as if he's observing their behavior through a microscope and describing every detail in the dispassionate tones of a scientist. But this reportorial detachment in no way makes the book seem cold. McIntosh's characters feel real enough to sock you in the eye. The novel has been compared to Raymond Carver's Short Cuts; it's a series of monologues and vignettes, some interconnected, all focusing on the constant human struggle to go on when you can't go on and to understand why you should bother. The Carver comparison fits, but McIntosh's material has more to do with the likes of Hubert Selby Jr. There are druggies and drug pushers, welfare queens, wife beaters, ex-fighters, barflies, bartenders, adulterous spouses in grim apartments. There's an outcast high-school kid who stalks a girl until her father is driven to violence. There are clerks, waitresses and students, all with dark secrets. Many of these people have debilitating physical or mental ailments, but what they're all really missing is that fix, that thing they can cling to, and so they lash out at each other or bash their heads against the wall or simply sink even deeper into the well.

“What's the use of crying and holding on to each other and talking in soft, soothing voices (or even asking each other what we're thinking about) when what we need is really something different and that is just to be saved,”

one character muses, and it's the question that runs throughout the book. McIntosh doesn't give us the answers, but he's a master at dissecting the people who are grappling with the question.

Becky Ohlsen, BOOKPAGE

[ “McIntosh assembles different episodes and voices to create an impressionistic tableau of Federal Way, Washington. 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. [McIntosh is] an artful registrar of the heart's lower frequencies.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

[ “The novel's… structure is powerful and affecting—individual lives are suddenly caught in the light, burn brightly and are gone again. A remarkable first novel.”


[ “With the proof in the writing, not the ambitiousness or media fanfare, Well is a hauntingly memorable book from a refreshing, new voice.”


[ “So real and true it's cool.”


[ “[McIntosh is] a writer with a keen eye for the alienation of blue collar America, a writer who can pinpoint the surprising ways that even the most disaffected among us are brought together, if only provisionally. Reading his work is to explore the darkest nether regions of modern American consciousness, but it seems a journey that’s necessary…”


[ “Okay, so. You read a lot of books. A lot of them look the same. You can get jaded. Burned out. It's part of the territory after awhile. But it's fine because you know—you just know—there'll be a book coming—one that sets you fizzing, gets you anxious about the kinds of thrills in store over the page—a book that'll get you thinking and gasping and staring slack-jawed out the window and—you know what I'm talking about, right? There are only ever a small handfull in any one year but Matthew McIntosh's Well is RIGHT THERE. It's RIGHT THERE.”


[ “McIntosh's bold confection of literary styles— stream-of-conciousness, free-form, and linear narrative—prove him a gifted new chronicler of quiet desperation.”


[Well is a collection of the lost and lonely voices in this longing world, articulating with naked prose and hidden poetry the million madnesses amongst the mundanities of everyday lives. Matthew McIntosh writes from the punched gut, the broken heart, the striving, splintered soul. He is a writer of rare and precious talent.”

NIALL GRIFFITHS, author of Runt

[ “We do not know what Matthew McIntosh will do tomorrow , but it is certain that today his talent is immense.”

Bruno Corty, LE FIGARO (France)