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Critically acclaimed Well marks the astonishing debut of an author with a singular and unflinching voice and vision. Set primarily among the working-class of a Seattle suburb called Federal Way, this highly original novel-told in the form of interlinked short stories- extols the lives of a large cast of characters lost in various modes of darkness and despair. Whether struggling to come together or desperately alone, they grapple with dark compulsions and heart-rending afflictions. As if trapped at the bottom of a well, they search for relief, for a vehicle into the light they know is up and outside.

They search in sex, in drugs and violence, and in visions of Apocalypse and Creation, dreams of angels and killers and local sports championships. Compact, finely wrought, powerfully charged, Well ultimately rises toward the light, in a finale which echoes with the exhilarating human capacity for hope. The result is a mesmerizing tour de force that will establish Matthew McIntosh as a bold and progressive new voice of American fiction.


Snapshots of various troubled couples on the day that the Seattle SuperSonics lose their chance at advancing to the NBA finals. Len and Adda are fighting- Len is in love with Adda (she is "the girl he wanted") but she is torn, and is leaving the next day to spend a week with her fiancée to make sure that breaking up with him is the right thing. Len becomes jealously enraged when he finds out Adda and her fiancée will be sleeping in the same bed, begging her not to touch the man.

Nate and Sammie are also Sammie insists that a certain girl who is trying to convert Nate stop calling their house. Nate gets tired of Sammie's hysteria and beats her, only to become terrified at what he has done.

A first person narrator recalls his rather pathetic adventures with prostitutes in Thailand, where he made big money at an English language newspaper and lived like a king. He brought a woman over who now resents him for it, and they have a staid marriage while he continues to dream over prostitutes.

Raymond and his wife are at the SuperSonics game and get in a fight when Ray's wife sees he is ogling cheerleaders through his binoculars. He misses it when the team loses at the buzzer.

The SuperSonics janitor comes home to his wife, who is pregnant. He masturbates as he recalls the time he slipped out to watch a burlesque show at the strip joint across the street.


II. Shelly is a Korean 16-year-old boarding school student who likes having sex with strangers in bars and doing crystal meth. She falls a sleep and crashes her car through a fence, causing her mother to cry and call her "A Real American Whore" when she picks her up in prison. She meets an older man who takes her in but finally gets sick of giving her money to drink and sends her home. When her mother isn't home, she goes to the nearest bar.

III. A phone sex patron can't make up his mind what he wants his fantasy to be and the story "Do you realize what this is costing?"

IV. The story of Davin, a warehouse worker, and Sarah, who are in a band together. Davin is loving and committed to Sarah but Sarah doesn't see a future with him. She gets pregnant and they grow distant. One day Davin gets in a fight with a co-worker and is paralyzed on his left side after being hit in the skull. Sarah takes care of him in the hospital, but when he returns home he begins drinking. One night he picks the 2-year-old up while drunk and Sarah becomes hysterical when the child begins crying. He beats Sarah and is issued a restraining order. Sarah moves out and eventually begins dating a construction worker she does not really love.


A group of guys gets into a game of chicken with a car containing a guy and a bunch of girls. When the guys cut the girls off suddenly, the driver of the latter car approaches the guys in an insane rage and finally hits the driver in the nose.

Santos and his young partner work at a hotel-they go to Denny's when they should be training an Ethiopian who messes up on his first day. The guys get fired for this and Santos, humiliated, tells the young partner about the time he made a buzzer shot in a college basketball game only to have the game-winning points taken away from him by the refs.

A kid drops some pills at the bus station and gets stuck on the Greyhound listening to a vet recount his experience in Guam, where he dug a whole to save himself from gunfire.


Charlie is a lonely gay bartender who has started to feel old and fat. Although he loves bartending and meeting people, etc., he loses his job because he has kept drinking on the job after repeated warnings. He laments that he has never been in love. On the night he loses his job he goes home to try to clean his filthy house but ends up vomiting into the toilet, longing for company.

A young man enters a peep bbbbbbooth with his friends and is struck by his ugly reflection as he looks at the beautiful dancer. When his friends begin teasing the dancer by sticking their tongue out, the bouncers approach them and a brawl ensues. The young man "pounds the Living Holy Fuck" out of the bouncers.

A man begins experience atrocious cyclical spells of pain, incoherence, and anxiety after he dives into a swimming pool one day and hits his head on the bottom. His parents take him to all variety of specialists who prescribe drugs, etc. and eventually he becomes dependent on them, and a drunk. He moves to London to get away from it all and meets a girl who wants to marry him but eventually assaults her in a fit of hysteria. He moves back home and lives a quiet life. When the pain is gone, he discovers that he misses it.

A man finds out that he will die of cancer and spends his day at the Trolley bar, getting hammered and thinking about the pointlessness of it all.

A man walks into a pharmacy with a fake prescription. The pharmacist dials 911 but before the police come he shoots himself.

The gruesome last days of two gunmen-one who killed his family before racing through the city on a killing spree as he fled from the cops, the other a man who shot a city bus driver- are recreated in a frank, reportorial manner.

The narrator, a somewhat pathetic naïf whose father wrecked the home by cheating on his catatonic mother, develops a crush on a girl who works at a fish restaurant. He goes on a date with her but is rejected when he attempts to grope her at her front door. Gradually he becomes obsessed with her, writing her love letters and visiting her even though she doesn't want to see him again. After he threatens to jump off her roof, her father tries to set him straight, eventually punching him in the face. He is offered admission at a fisheries school in Nebraska and goes there to get away from Seattle, but finds it isn't what he bargained for, and becomes bored. He lies by the highway and in a somewhat magical-realism passage two guys stop their car and begin taking his body apart until he has turned into a fish, gasping for air on the highwayside. It starts to rain and he finds himself "there, somewhere, in-between."

A Jesus-loving woman develops a mysterious degenerative illness and is forced to spend the rest of her days in a home, putting up a front of hope but knowing that she is on her way out.

The narrator remembers his first love, a girl without a mother and an abusive father. It is an innocent relationship-the narrator is plagued by sexual hang-ups and the girl cries after intercourse. When the narrator accidentally gets her pregnant, the girl's father storm into his house and almost chokes him to death. Thinking about his mentally retarded brother that his parents institutionalized and about the beatings his girlfriend has taken from her father, the narrator breaks up with the girl because he feels guilty that he can't take care of his own.

288 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2003

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About the author

Matthew McIntosh

2 books43 followers
Matthew McIntosh (b. 1977) is an American writer best known for his 2003 novel Well. He graduated from the creative writing program at the University of Washington after years of being enrolled on-and-off, during which time he held numerous menial jobs. He also attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. As a second-year workshop student, he won Playboy magazine's short story contest for university students for his story “Fishboy.”

Librarian note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.


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5 stars
48 (18%)
4 stars
88 (33%)
3 stars
76 (29%)
2 stars
35 (13%)
1 star
14 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
800 reviews853 followers
January 2, 2021
Through the first half of this I was thinking it's perfect, fragmentary structure interlinking all these people, the general place the primary character, everyone sort of desperate, unrestrained, drinking too much, drugs, violence, white northwestern urban poverty, Seattle area, a place called Federal Way, like a lower middle class strip near the airport, all of it expressed in clear, flowing, unpretentious, active, dramatic, moving language, often veering into really well-done sex scenes that weren't about the sex so much as underlying sadness and general traumatic events of existence. Midway through a bus plunges off a highway and I started thinking the violence was unnecessary, the margins were really thin like a police blotter so it read quickly but I was wondering what I'm getting from this, is it sort of like down-and-out Pacific Northwest class porn, like Jesus' Son transplanted and not as poetic but still with an underlying Christian deliverance vibe? And then the rest of the book -- really a collection of stories occasionally linked by character and always by geography more than an unconventional novel -- especially when the narrator was younger and the language not as honed seemed to fall off, started to feel like stories I could imagine the author putting up for workshop (he's an Iowa grad, same class as two good friends who graduated a few years before me), the long one toward the end with many under-characterized characters, feeling more like fiction than the first half of the book, all of which felt real, like the author or his friends or family had lived it and he was just reporting back. I loved TheMystery.doc a few years ago and for some reason have put this one off even if I knew about it and it was recommended to me maybe 15 years ago. Glad I've read it. Really worthwhile, especially paired with his much more ambitious second novel, the seeds for which are certainly here. Very much looking forward to whatever he writes next.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
861 reviews2,189 followers
November 9, 2017
Get "Well" Soon

Initially, this book evoked Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” and Raymond Carver’s short stories, but it soon became apparent that McIntosh’s characters came from a similar milieu to those in William T. Vollmann’s “The Rainbow Stories” and “The Royal Family” (only Seattle's Federal Way versus San Francisco's Tenderloin).

The major difference between McIntosh and Vollmann is that the former is more interested in the people, whereas the latter self-consciously prioritises their transgressiveness (because it is actually his own - his fiction is, unsurprisingly, made in his own image).

The characters in “Well” cross the border, and step over boundaries, but they do so as a result of personal, social and economic pressures. They’re hurt, pained, embarrassed, sorrowful, damaged, depressed, distraught, devastated. They want to be well, they don’t want to be unwell. Yet they find themselves at the bottom of a metaphorical well. In contrast, Vollmann promotes the unwell as some sort of 21st century hero. McIntosh recognises that the only act of heroism is to survive each day and to hope for (and try to achieve) a better alternative. There is no heroism in his characters’ lifestyle or their transgression. Vollmann’s moral calculus is skew-whiff. It's made for reading about in a moral vacuum, not for living.

McIntosh’s fiction is superior to that of Vollmann, because it doesn’t come with a spurious conceited anarcho-libertarian vision attached to it. It features real people rather than romanticised cartoon characters.

Profile Image for Simon Fay.
Author 4 books153 followers
November 29, 2018
There's a Hubert Selby Jr. quote on the cover:

'A book that still resonates in my heart.'

I can see why they sent him a copy. A large portion of the early stories in the book read like somebody affectionately imitating Last Exit to Brooklyn. They're not bad, just a bit bland in comparison. Even the time period, written some two or three decades after Selby's book, is oddly undeveloped. The down and outs, strippers and alcoholics that populate the stories would be just at home in 1970's New York as they are in whatever city they occupy here.

There are highlights worth reading though. In particular, there are a couple of angsty teen stories that offer up some compelling portraits of family woes and mental illness. I wouldn't recommend you rush out to buy a copy, but if you ran into me on the street, I'd happily lend you my copy and point out what stories to skip to.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,331 followers
October 21, 2017
Matthew McIntosh's fantastic(ly brutal) themystery.doc was recently published. This is his first novel (2003). What he does in this one is pretty much what he does in the second one. But he does it better today. So much better. So so so much better. I mean, Well starts out almost in cliche land re: the sadness and brutal life of the depraved and society's most bottom dreck. Both books get blurbed by Selby Jr ; but it's the first that fits in his world ; the second is pretty much beyond him. Nice of him to greet it so well though ;; "A book that still resonates in my heart". (ah hell, that was a blurb for Well not themystery.doc (one must always read small print and contextual clues)). Just know, should you choose to pick up Well one day ; that it gets better in its bathos later in the book rising above the sex and drugs and abuse simplicity. But really as that kind of exercise you really should read Well after themystery.doc because you don't often get that kind of quick perspective of what it means to grow up as an artist.

I got a signed 1st/1st so when he eventually wins the Nobel I'll have something to retire on. Maybe about six bucks.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 11 books160 followers
June 9, 2011
I've put 'novel' and 'short stories' down as they are really connected stories (in the manner of Winesburg, Ohio)...

review later
was a bit annoyed by it really, all the capitals, columns, silly titles (to my mind, here's one of the 'chapter' titles - THOUGH OCCASIONALLY GLARING OR VIOLENT , MODERN COLOR IS ON THE WHOLE EMINENTLY SOMBER. Is it though, as Catherine Tate's Lauren* would say?). And it purports to be a novel when in fact it is a collection of stories, albeit sometimes linked. And it doesn't vary enough in tone. However, I did really enjoy it all, once past those obstacles. In fact I read 'Fishboy' on a plane to Amsterdam and wanted the flight to go on longer so I could finish the story -in fact I just managed as it bumped down. (Strangely the same thing happened on the way back with a story in '10 Stories About Smoking'). Fucking great story. About a mad adolescent boy who obsesses about a girl and does all sorts of weird things. OK , nothing new, but the story bumped along like the plane and then soared, passages such as the following:

The door exploded. A white light filled the room, then a yellow light, then a red light, and a sonic boom, folowed by a series of high pitched screeching sounds. From the opening in the doorway, a long red flame burst in and split the room in half. A tall man walked in. Dressed in a black bodysuit and a gold fireman's mask. He held a shiny gold flamethrower. He walked round my apartment and, slowly, methodically, began to light everything on fire. He opened the refrigerator and stepped back. He pulled the trigger and with a roar the inside went up in flames. He walked into the bathroom, there was a whooshing sound, I saw a glow. Then he came back in, walked across the carpet, and stood in front of me. He spoke words, deep and thunderous but uintelligible behind the fireman's mask. Then he turned back to the rest of the apartment and fired again. The drapes went up and the walls and then the floor, and the fire raged to the ceiling.... I watched, petrified, as the man in black walked over to my fishtank and sprayed it with flame - the water boiled and my fish burst their seams. the water turned red.

The fish are a good touch, especially in context. The stories are all pretty good, most - all - downbeat, drugs, (I like downbeat, drugs) tight, and also funny as when a bloke rings a sex line but keeps changing his mind about what he wants -

He wanted to know if she liked to be with men and women at the same time. She loved it. She'd been with lots of women - she loved women and men - and she'd been waiting for - No, he didn't like that. OK, she'd #never# been with a woman but she'd always wanted to try. In fact, there was another woman with her right now... a young coed with long blonde hair, and they were both in their panties - ... She was with a young #brunette# coed and she was an #older# woman - a friend of his mother's from when he was a teenager - Rebecca White was her name.. her husband was obese and she didn't love her husband and what she'd always wanted was #him#.. No, what she #really# wanted was to be with a young coed and a teenage boy...

And so on.
So thanks whichever goodreader recommended.

*Catherine Tate had a (British) TV comedy show which featured a schoolgirl who had phrases like 'Am I bovvered?'and 'Is it though?'..

Profile Image for Sarah.
16 reviews1 follower
April 25, 2008
This is not a book about like-able characters, and McIntosh forces the reader into their minds. Much of the book is written in a particular style of first-person that is unusual, but sometimes creepy - the characters are either talking directly to you, the reader, or you are part of their thoughts. These characters deal with fear, pain, and addiction - not always in the best ways or ways they can even express. The connections between stories, when I found them, were thrilling, but I'm not sure if I was meant to find more. McIntosh does "stark" well but I don't think I found the hope in the middle of it all that the book jacket promised.
August 8, 2013
I couldn't work out whether to give this book a 3 or a 4. But then I thought, if this book was in my shoes it would give itself a self depricating 3 - so a 3 it is.

Whilst it was almost captivating that a book could feel so hopeless and bleak, I kept feeling as if round the next corner, there would be some sort of redemption or glimpse of contentment...

This book will leave you clawing at the walls of your own well, and I hope you make it out, because you're on your own.
Profile Image for Kilean.
105 reviews6 followers
February 2, 2008
Dark, memorable -- busted places and people. Young writer with a bunker full of talent. The stories are subtly connected, at least by place, and a lot of them don't follow any kind of standard structure, which is refreshing, as is his voice. Hard to triangulate but I can't forget these characters. Reminds me of Hubert Selby Jr.'s style.
Profile Image for Lisa.
34 reviews6 followers
June 2, 2016
Le livre du malaise.
J'ai passé la première moitié du livre à me dire que quelque chose de bien doit arriver dans la vie d'au moins un des personnages. Eh bien non, que dalle, ça continue aussi mal que ça a commencé. Pour la deuxième moitié, j'étais lancée, mais chaque session de lecture m'a laissé un drôle de goût dans la bouche.
Profile Image for Mike.
290 reviews5 followers
June 15, 2019
In the Library of Congress information about this work, one category for it turns out to be "working class fiction" --- a term I haven't seen before, but an apt one in this case. This book turns out to be a series of mini-stories and vignettes set in and around Seattle --- some of them were previously published in some magazines. Occasionally some characters turn up in several of the chapters/situations, so the degree of inter-weaving of the tales is limited. It's hard to say that the chapters --- while similar in tone and subject matter --- coalesce into an actual novel. Involved here are lower class individuals in dead end jobs, struggling to get by without much to look forward to. There's heavy drug use, sexual excess, depression, alcoholism, retardation, prostitution, and violence. It's not a pretty picture, and the characters could certainly collectively be considered losers. It certainly must sound like a "downer" and I guess it is. So why read it? The simple answer is that the quality of the writing is so compelling that it carries the day. If it hadn't been as well written as it was I probably would have put it down. And it isn't too long, and it goes fairly quickly. My aging mind has no memory of how this book came to my attention. And if the goodreads system allowed for it, I'd probably award this three-and-a-half stars.
Profile Image for Kaylee.
744 reviews5 followers
September 9, 2019
I started this having read Mystery.doc first. There is a part of this one that is reprised (almost paragraph for paragraph for at least two pages) in his later book, and I can see how his mindset hasn't changed much when he writes.

This is definitely a "guy" book -- there's a story in here that was published in Playboy, and as soon as I started it, I was like, "This feels like it belongs in a men's magazine". His stories have that voice, that masculinity that feels guilty for existing and dangerous and self-aware and yet ultimately not at all abashed.

I feel like I should have liked it slightly less because of the violence and shittiness of the characters, but then, I guess I enjoyed it for what it was.
Profile Image for Katherine.
21 reviews7 followers
January 16, 2019
A work of fiction that offers glimpses of dark realities. Human but not trite.
A quick but heavy read.
Profile Image for Trish.
433 reviews25 followers
July 15, 2020
Nigh unreadable. Disjointed scraps featuring unnamed, unconnected characters, snippets as unrelated as the flashes caught when flipping through television channels.
Profile Image for Erica "ET" Barton.
19 reviews10 followers
October 10, 2013
This book is by E.T. Barton of the BookReviewersClub. E.T. says this book is aboutA young Adult Novel. The author wrote this book back in the 70's. She likes the writers voice. A story about a boy named ender. He lives in a world that is being attacked by aliens. Earth is in pretty panic and they created this program where they implant a monitor in the back of children's head. They monitor their thoughts, the monitor their lives and the ones they find qualified for their program they then take the child to a battle school in space. Ender is specifically made and he is governmentally approved because the earth needs a hero. They had a hero 7 years earlier and now looking for a new one. they kind of put all their hopes in Ender. He's a third child, he's a genius. He went to battle school in space and ends up being the best they have ever seen. They are taught how to fight and how to win. What she liked about the book was she felt like it was written today. The description of the book seems better than of star wars and she believed this book was written before star wars! The description he puts on the book is so powerful. Its a modern day story and its fast paced which she really likes. What she didn't like about the book was she was basically confuse at the beginning what the buggers are. All in all, she gave the book 5 stars because she highly recommends it and definitely gonna read it sometime and she's definitely seeing the movie.
Profile Image for Karen Germain.
814 reviews51 followers
January 22, 2008
This past weekend I was in Silverlake and I stopped into Skylight Books, a very cool new bookstore discovery! I found "Well" on the staff recommendation table. Apparently, it had been one of the stores top ten best selling novels for the past several years. I had never heard of it, but it looked promising, so I bought it.

I finished it in one day. It's one of those books that I kept wanting to read just one more chapter and couldn't put it down. The book is hard to describe. It's a sort of a series of vignettes, parts seem poetic or even theatrical. Some parts of the book read like traditional short stories, but much of the book is not told in a linear fashion. The narration is all over the place. I don't know how to explain it, other than I found it to be a very compelling book. McIntosh's writing is both gritty and beautiful. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Profile Image for Sara Comuzzo.
Author 8 books8 followers
August 12, 2016
VA TUTTO BENE è una raccolta di racconti. dei quadri di vite di disadattati. situazioni e fotografie di rapporti d'amore malati, di violenza, di sentimenti ambivalenti ma sicuramente universali.
l'autore riesce ad attaccare storie senza un senso ben preciso. a tratti certe sembrano pagine di diari, confessioni, sfoghi. a tratti risulta un po' difficile coglierne le diverse prospettive ma è un libro innovativo. lo stile è preciso, serrato e molto emotivo. si capisce tante cose da queste pagine, il ritratto di una società ritardata nell'atto stesso in cui cerca di progredire.
di certo, non lascia indifferenti.
Profile Image for Jason.
11 reviews
July 7, 2007
The author is definitely talented, but this is his first book, and it shows.

Basically a scattershot of loosely connected essays, all of which center around the sad people in a sad town who go about their sad lives being sad.

After a while, the style and content became a little too repetitive, and I lost interest. However, it's clear that the author is talented (and sad) so I will check out his future work.
3 reviews
March 2, 2009
The most depressing thing ever. Matthew McIntosh's well-written a bunch of vignettes about assorted miserable, down on their everything Americans mostly around Federal Way, Washington. The characters mostly blend into one another, seeing the one common thing is just how horribly miserable their lives are. Enjoy!
60 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2009
Not as even or accomplished as it could be, and more a collection of short stories than an actual novel. But moody, atmospheric and well-written - a fascinating piece of work where location is a more real character than the humans who inhabit the stories.
Profile Image for Tracy.
33 reviews6 followers
October 14, 2009
Series of essays shedding light on the dark side of life and humanity. Set in a local bar, dingy apartments and the neighborhood off a major freeway, people's lives persist, and hope struggles to find a stronghold.
Profile Image for Darius.
113 reviews
January 1, 2010
Most of the time it feels like McIntosh is trying to get through his chapters or stories at Hemingway speed, with less success. Most everything feels incomplete. There's a great variety of outlooks, narrations, moments, but it was hardly ever fulfilling to read. Fun titles.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
36 reviews7 followers
December 20, 2013
"...and it's getting closer and I'm waiting, and I don't know what I was thinking while I waited other than it's taking so damn long to get here, and I'm tired and I feel like I've been waiting all my life."
Profile Image for Oakley Merideth.
148 reviews14 followers
April 26, 2018
While this collection of inter-related short stories is inconsistent in parts, it does ultimately coalesce into a tight package of narratives all of which challenge the reader with a fundamental question: how does one handle a desire that they are not fully aware of?
Profile Image for Alex Fernie.
9 reviews25 followers
June 20, 2007
Well written, but occasionally becomes tedious. It is more a series of interconnected short stories than a traditional novel.
5 reviews1 follower
August 11, 2008
Are you looking for some local lore? Look no further than McIntosh with his portrayal of Federal Way... Aurora gets some airtime as well.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews

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