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Everything Ravaged, Everything Burn

by Wells Tower
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publishing date: 02/02/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780312429294
  • ISBN: 0312429290


Viking marauders descend on a much-plundered island, hoping some mayhem will shake off the winter blahs.  A man is booted out of his home after his wife discovers that the print of a bare foot on the inside of his car's windshield doesn't match her own.  Teenage cousins, drugged by summer, meet with a reckoning in the woods.  A boy runs off to the carnival after his stepfather bites him in a brawl.  Wells Tower's version of America is touched with the seamy splendor of the dropout, the misfit: failed inventors, boozy dreamers, hapless fathers, wayward sons.  With electric prose and savage wit, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a profound new collection of stories.
Wells Tower’s short stories and journalism have appeared in The New YorkerHarper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Washington Post Magazine, and elsewhere. He received two Pushcart Prizes and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review. He divides his time between Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

Viking marauders descend on a much-plundered island, hoping some mayhem will shake off the winter blahs. A man is booted out of his home after his wife discovers that the print of a bare foot on the inside of his windshield doesn’t match her own. Teenage cousins, drugged by summer, meet with a reckoning in the woods. A boy runs off to the carnival after his stepfather bites him in a brawl.

In the stories of Wells Tower, families fall apart and messily try to reassemble themselves. His version of America is touched with the seamy splendor of the dropout, the misfit: failed inventors, boozy dreamers, hapless fathers, wayward sons. Combining electric prose with savage wit, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a major debut, announcing a voice we have not heard before.
?[An] incredible talent . . . It sometimes feels as if there’s nothing Tower can’t render in arresting fashion . . . Tower’s prose is a welcome reminder that the first job of the fiction writer is to introduce the reader to worlds both new and familiar in ways they wouldn’t have arrived at on their own . . . One suspects we’ll be hearing his name?which invokes prose that is both soaring and deep?for a long time to come.”?Jim Ruland, Los Angeles Times
"This arresting debut collection of stories decisively establishes Mr. Tower?a magazine journalist who has also won two Pushcart Prizes?as a writer of uncommon talent, a writer with Sam Shepard’s radar for the violent, surreal convolutions of American society; Frederick Barthelme’s keen ear for contemporary slang; and David Foster Wallace’s eye for the often hilarious absurdities of contemporary life . . . Mr. Tower has an instinctive gift for creating characters with finely calibrated interior lives and an almost Dickensian physical immediacy. His writing can be darkly hilarious and grotesque and yet simultaneously attuned to his people’s sense of loss and bewilderment and frustration. Indeed, he uses his reportorial talent for description to conjure the glum, shopworn world they inhabit . . . And he uses that same talent to convey the subtle shifts of mood that can take place among relatives or friends or strangers, as boredom, say, turns to irritation, or irritation mutates into violence . . . As in early Shepard plays, the focus tends to be less on relationships with women than on those with fathers, brothers, neighbors or children?relationships that somehow inform the hero’s sense of place in the world, his competitive status or disadvantage in the Darwinian scheme of things. However despondent these men may be, they are usually granted a slender glimpse of hope or release or maybe even redemption, usually in the form of some beautiful landscape or creature that reminds them of Nature’s benevolence and crazy possibilities . . . We eagerly devour these tales . . . for Mr. Tower’s masterly conjuring of his people’s daily existence, his understanding of their emotional dilemmas, his controlled but dazzling language and his effortless ability to turn snapshots of misfits and malcontents into a panoramic cavalcade of American life."?Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Book Review

"If the narrators and antiheroes of Tower’s stories are half-defeated he-men, bumbling and only partly tamed, then their rivals or antagonists are self-­satisfied shamans or therapists or frontier socialists. In 'Leopard,' a young boy has a hateful stepfather who does nothing but make mulch and think up chores for the kid to perform. Addressing himself in the second person, the boy thinks, 'As a young liar, you can generally get pretty far on the assumption that adults have more important things to worry about than catching out a kid for every little fraud he tries to pull. But your stepfather seems to have plenty of time to study and doubt everything that comes out of your mouth.' If the intersection between hotheads and cool customers is one of the aspects of Tower’s fiction, another is class conflict. In the story called 'Wild America,' a middle-class girl flirts with a louche stranger who plies her with beer, and for a moment she forgets the ordinariness of her life. But when he drives her home, her heart sinks: 'At the sight of her father, the fear went out of Jacey, and cold mortification took its place. There he stood, not yet 40, bald as an apple, and beaming out an uncomprehending fat-boy’s smile. His face, swollen with a recent sunburn, glowed against the green dark of the rosebushes at his back. He wore the cheap rubber sandals Jacey hated, and a black T-shirt airbrushed with the heads of howling wolves, whose smaller twin lay at the bottom of Jacey’s closet with the price tag still attached. Exhausted gray socks collapsed around his thick ankles, which rose to the familiar legs Jacey herself was afflicted with, bowed and trunk-like things a lifetime of exercise would never much improve. Her humiliation was sudden and solid and without thought or reason. But the wordless, exposed sensation overwhelming her was that her father wasn’t quite a person, not really, but a private part of her, a curse of pinkness and squatness and cureless vulnerability that was Jacey’s right alone to keep hidden from the world.' I quote this passage at such length because it reveals all the tensile strength of Tower’s remarkable style. His syntax, though always easy to follow, is supple enough to wrap itself around several shades of meaning in the same sentence. His understanding of previously under-recognized feelings (in this case, the humiliation of family resemblance) is rich in detail and passionate in utterance. And his familiarity with the whole ghastly world of malls and 'cute' commercial culture is serious, even plangent, certainly not merely satirical. Every one of the stories in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is polished and distinctive. Though he’s intrigued by the painful experiences of men much older than he is, Tower can write with equal power about young women and boys; about hell-­raising, skull-bashing ancient Vikings and an observant housebound old man of the 21st century, even about a cheerful, insouciant pedophile. His range is wide and his language impeccable, never strained or fussy. His grasp of human psychology is fresh and un-Freudianizing. Ezra Pound once said that the most memorable passages are those that encapsulate kinetic movement rather than static images. He would have liked Tower’s description of a power boat as it 'bullied its way through the low swells, a fat white fluke churning up behind us.' And he’d have appreciated Tower’s rendition of a broken exhaust, which sounds 'like someone in a suit of armor getting dragged up the street.' Tower’s dialogue is as crisp and contemporary and offbeat as Lorrie Moore’s and his vision of Ameri­ca as despairing as Joy Williams’s (to cite just two of our greatest short story writers). I once wondered why Surrealism never really caught on as a literary strategy in America. Wells Tower makes me think that nothing bizarre someone might dream up could ever be as strange as American life as we live it. The 'beyond' that the Surrealists talked about so much, the au-delà, is America itself."?Edmund White, The New York Times Book Review

"For all the literary pyrotechnics on display in this curious narrative, the rest of the stories are surprisingly straightforward. In fact, Tower's skill at things like exposition and characterization mark him as almost old-fashioned. The story Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned was first published in the New York literary magazine Fence way back in 2002. The story won the Pushcart Prize and was anthologized in The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories in 2004. In other words, this fresh new voice in American fiction is neither fresh nor new; and that's precisely what makes the arrival of this incredible talent so compelling. Tower's subject? He doesn't have one. He adeptly tackles all manner of familial conflicts: father vs. son, brother vs. brother, husband vs. wife, boy vs. stepfather, in other words, the world. (It must be said that all but one of the nine stories in the collection are told from the point of view of male protagonists.) The stories are set in locales scattered across the countr...

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  • "This was love for us, or the best that love could do."
    From Amazon

    Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a short story collection that truly lives up to its title. The happenings that populate its pages are bleak indeed, its characters a who's who of damaged lives and bad decisions. And while parts of it can be a touch too Grand Guignol it is remarkable how Wells Tower manages to make most of it profound and affecting rather than irksome. It starts with some fine turns of phrase that make depression into something witty ("My hangover was calamitous," "for quite a while, we'd been nothing but an argument looking for different ways to happen," etc.). The crosses these characters bear have weight, but they feel less burdensome under Towers' deft guidance. But what really makes this collection poignant is its author's ability to empathize with his sad sack subjects - one can almost feel that he has affection for their unique abilities to make messes of their lives, and when he writes about their failures it is with a knowing wink to the reader. It is almost as though Tower takes pride in giving lives of desperation (both quiet and explosively loud) a spotlight - a chance to shine for one brief moment and be understood. The element of too-muchness does ultimately keep Everything Ravaged from being a great collection, but it remains a very readable work from someone who is definitely a talent to watch. I for one am intrigued to see what he comes up with next. Grade: B

  • Worst book of short stories ever
    From Amazon

    Terrible book. I read this because it was rated number 2 on this year's Believer list of reader's best books of the year (above other, genuinely wonderful books). I'd say that the voting was rigged by the writer's friends and family, but after reading this book I find it hard to imagine that he has any friends or family who think very highly of him, as all his stories are full of bitter bile and hatred. What you got to be so upset about white boy??

  • Everything average
    From Amazon

    Wells Tower's first book is an interesting collection of stories showcasing a wide range of contemporary urban America. Tower shows his depth of character voices by writing from the varied points of view of disaffected young men, confused young boys, troubled teen girls, humourous old men, and medieval Vikings. This last one is the story to get peoples' attention, the gimmick, but is in fact the weakest. Tower's strengths are in contemporary settings and complex relationships. Most of the stories hold your attention but some of them were let down by "Literary" pretensions. For example, in "Down Through the Valley", the finale is the narrator getting into a fight in a bar's parking lot. Just before he throws a punch though he remembers a dinner party! Then the fights over. Have you ever been in a fight? I promise you, these moments of Literary pretention do not happen. The climax of "Retreat" is the shooting of a moose while "Executors of Important Energies" has a son visiting his father who has Alzeheimer's. I've read several stories which have both devices as major components of the story. It's what makes a story "worthy" of critical acclaim and reeks of self import. "Wild America" is the only story here that really stands out for it's originality. Two cousins, once great friends, find they've grown apart in their teen years. A trip to the woods ends in a deeper rift between the two and, for one of them, an encounter with a strange man. This is probably the best story here. Measured writing, pitch perfect characterisation, and convincing dialogue, rolled up in an interesting story. The other stories are readable but by no means different from any other stories you're likely to read in literary journals like McSweeney's, The Paris Review, or The New Yorker. That is, they're ok but forgettable. It's an enjoyable collection by a good writer, on his way to becoming a great writer. Hopefully he'll stray from intentionally oblique endings that plague literary journals and write better stories. I'll definitely check back in when he writes another book though this one was filled with so so stories and not the dynamic ones you'd imagine from the advertising.

  • This Year's Naked Emperor
    From Amazon

    Overrated and now seen for what it is -- a decent but highly-mannered debut by a moderately talented writer with a superb publicity machine behind him. Last year's boy wonder is this year's naked emperor. Next!

  • Burned, yes
    From Amazon

    These could be stories Cheever wrote but correctly decided to burn. That is the best that can be said of them.

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