10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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 Alzheimer'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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2010
For those who only read the first sentence or two of a review, here goes - Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, along with Donald Ray Pollock's Knockemstiff (actually, if you like that you'll almost certainly like this) is one of the best collections of new short fiction to hit the shelves in the past few years - go get it.
Tower's collection is taut, thoughtful, extremely emotionally mature and convincing, odd and very much new. I'm amazed that one of my fellow reviewers deemed the stories derivative (as are, according to said reviewer, the stories in the wonderful New Yorker). The roots of Tower's writing do indeed go deep (there are hints and echoes of many greats here), but in the final analysis the stories are his own. Though often concerned with outsiders and their struggles, the stories are varied and compelling in their themes and plots, and brilliantly realised in their language. Tower is a great and edgy new literary voice.
PS. Another reviewer derides the excellent story 'Retreat' for its apparently tired 'climax' where the protagonist shoots and kills a moose on a hunting trip (perhaps deeming it too redolent of Hemingway et al?) . . . I would disagree, however, on where the climax is reached, and would argue that it's with said protagonist's wilful, pride-fuelled, stubborn swallowing of the moose's seemingly infected meat. It's a killer of a story.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This collection of short stories pulls together a mix of people who are all unsatisfied with their lives and uncomfortable about something.
Many reviewers have pointed out, and I agree, that the writing is wonderful. The phrases are amazingly descriptive and the author is able to quickly bring into the readers head an image, a feeling or an emotion with a minimum of words - very clever.
I occasionally try short story collections and this one was highly recommended so I gave it a go. I was disappointed about the lack of variety from one story to the next, sometimes it seemed as though it was the same person in subsequent stories. I think the collection could have been made better with more consideration of the sequence of the stories. Maybe the way to read this book is one story at a time with plenty of other reading in between.
If you particularly like short stories then I think this collection would be worth a read. If not, then I would suggest giving it a miss.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2010
I'm not usually one for short stories, but seeing that The Times wrote 'Sentences so good you want to cut them out and pin them to the wall' I was willing to get it a go.
The Times was right, Wells Tower has a great grasp of the English language and manages to put together great sentences in so few words that most others would have to write a paragraph to get the same message across.
I found all nine stories entertaining and I like that he experimented with writing in different view points (1st and 3rd person as well as 2nd person). Each story is so different from the rest.
on 25 May 2010
Wells Tower writes well. At his best his imagery is apt, precise and evocative. I liked the 'little gears' that haul up his first character from sleep and the weather descriptions in the Viking story. At his worst he is writerly, cramming in telling phrases far too densely. It's not any individual metaphor or word choice that leaves the brush strokes showing, so to speak, but just their sheer frequency.
That said, at least he has the talent to be writerly. He's good, but there's a little bit of 'hey, look at me, I'm good!' to his goodness.
The image of the man shaking the urine out of the dog is something straight out of an undergraduate creative writing class. A bizarre idea included for the sake of its bizarreness. Rubbish. Will Self-ish. However, the love hate relationship between the brothers is handled very well.
The fish in the first story almost exist only to be some sort of metaphor. You hear the creaking of the brain as he writes. Again, much less interesting than the details of the relationship between the neighbours, which was great.
I found the title Viking story hard to judge. I liked it, for sure, but there were certain jarring elements to it and I couldn't say if they were deliberate or not.
The Vikings were drinking potato wine? Er, no they weren't. 'Corn Kernels on a cob' - again, not unless they're time travellers. Gunwhales? That's where the gun goes. The Viking gun? This may have been deliberate but, while I found the language believable and welcome - let's face it, in a proper translation Vikings probably would sound like gangsters - these elements seemed sloppy. Perhaps they were meant to be jarring. If so, they succeeded but jarred me out of the world of the story.
For all that, well written, promising and, most of all, enjoyable.
on 17 October 2011
This writer's debut is a collection of short tales which whilst differing completely in the characters situations and motivations, all investigate the diversity of human emotion, whether this be the jealousy a young girl feels about her beautiful cousin or the abandonment of a man whose father suffers with extreme memory loss. Like the characters I too found myself quickly changing dispositions whilst reading this book; on one page I found myself laughing the next there was a deep sense of sorrow. Some of the decisions the characters make made me squirm with the feeling of impending doom. The personalities are drawn so deftly by Wells Tower making them thoroughly believable and like-able that when they make a stupid decision or find themselves swamped in danger the reader feels for them, worries for them and on many occasions laughs with them. The prose is beautiful, full of razor-sharp wit and human observation that makes for an highly enjoyable read.
For the most part the stories are just the right length leaving you fulfilled but not bored and the difference in the characters also helps you to keep on reading. So, if you want slice of reality with a side-order of laughs and heart-ache, try this book. Also, if you enjoy this try these Rust and Bone and Knockemstiff Thank you.
on 26 March 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories. Long and engaging enough to keep you interested, but not too long that they lose their pace.
They hint at some darkness, but it never fully develops in the stories, and there is a subtle humour, or tongue in cheek attitude that seems to gloss over them all - so no story is too disturbing. This comes through in the language used by Wells Tower - simple but descriptive. Although most, if not all do not end with a conventional satisfying ending. You are given a short glimpse into the lives of these characters, during one small period of their lives, no past history, or future reconciliations, we as the reader just dip in and dip out.
They are easy reading - with some lasting impact - some of the situations and characters created do have a lasting effect. Which is something I look for in a good book - does the character stay with me even when I am not reading. I would recommend this to most people who enjoy modern American literature. John Irving or Michael Chabon fans will enjoy.
on 3 December 2009
I read short stories as much as I can; equally to see how they are constructed as for the sheer enjoyment. These rated well on both accounts. Their examination of american masculinity is indeed reminiscent of Raymond Carver; a quiet unshowy tone which hides uncomfortable truths and where violence is only ever so slightly out of reach.I have to say that reading how Wells Tower was published in McSweeneys actually put me off - not being an avid fan of the David Eggers' school of american quirk, but these are really not that kind of story.
The best of these rank up there with Carver, Annie Proulx et al. My favourite has to be the title story, where the use of contemporary language, which in other hands might be an annoying and trivialising device actually adds to the depth of the story
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 2009
Wells Tower - Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
Wells Tower, born in 1973, is a young American with a strong voice. His debut, a collection of short stories published by Granta this month, is full of vivid images and hard, punchy writing.
Wells' world is one of crushing disappointment and thwarted desire borne, for the most part, by lonely, silent men who are few of word but deep of feeling.
In The Brown Coast, a young man whose life has gone wrong on several fronts takes up an offer from his uncle to do up his uncle's coastal cottage. He finds comfort in collecting sea creatures in an old aquarium. Tower's prose manages to be masculine and gruff yet also hauntingly descriptive:
`The wood paneling in the living room had shrugged up over many moist summers, and now the walls looked like a relief map of unfriendly, mountainous land.'
Towers has a gift for using words in unconventional ways which seem instantly apt: `a stand of pine trees, limbless and spectral', `a jazz of oaths', `a confetti of moths ` around a light bulb.
In Retreat, the mercurial relationship between a pair of brothers explodes and then ebbs into uneasy truces. Their mutual envy and competitiveness threaten to destroy their chances of finding peace and happiness. Tower's language lurks and paints a desolate landscape, adding to the atmosphere:
`...the sunset smoldering behind the molars of the Appalachian range',
` pink insulation lay like an autopsy patient beneath the cloudy plastic sheeting.'
`... would suck the innocence and joy from his child as greedily as a desert wanderer savaging a found orange.'
`I wanted to get back to spinning the blanket of mindless incident stretched ever thinner across the pit of regrets I found myself peering into most sleepless nights.'
In Executors of Important Energies, a man's father is gripped by a form of dementia. `His store of memories just sprang a rapidly widening leak.'
`Down Through the Valley' is a tale of a journey from hell which a man has to take with his child and his ex-wife's smug new boyfriend. Lured by the prospect of buying a place in his ex wife's good books by doing her a favour, the man is sucked into a series of unfortunate events.
Tower is surprisingly astute when it comes to inhabiting a child narrator. In Leopard, a young boy skives off school, but has to contend with his hostile stepfather. Many unanswered questions are raised including one about the perpetrator of a horrific child murder nearby, but Tower leaves the reader wanting to know more.
In Wild America, a teenager is visited by her cousin who has grown to be a willowy beauty. Her rage and jealousy is powerfully conveyed:
`Jacey could feel the anger coming off her like heat lines on a road.'
And, after Jacey delivers a stinging put-down:
`A collapsed, stunned look came over Maya, as though a piece of crucial rigging had been snipped behind her face.'
Jacey inhabits a world between childhood and adulthood, and the potentially threatening undercurrents of what she's playing with are potently evoked.
On The Show is another chillingly atmospheric story set in the false neon bonhomie of a fairground where an appalling crime is committed. The reader knows that the criminal will never be caught. The claustrophobia of the dingy place and the lives of the various people who have ended up there are illuminated in Tower's grim flashlight.
The last story, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, is a tale of Vikings and vengeance narrated by one of the more gentle of the fighters. Towers transposes modern language to this historical set, and this anachronism adds to the jarring, disturbing feel.
Tower is a distinctive voice and his hard-edged, brusque but evocative fiction will undoubtedly win fans.
on 13 September 2009
I am amazed how, with so few words, a small group of characters can be so convincingly brought to life in 3 dimensional detail. This is, I suppose, what fiction is meant for; you are escorted to another person's life for a short while, and then you leave.
What a pity that the lives portrayed here are so bleak! These are people - mostly men, mostly modern, mostly middle-aged - whose lives have become stuck in a rut, usually of their own making, and out of which they are quite unable to extricate themselves. The events within each story track the characters' dreary reality downwards; sometimes a step, but more usually a notch.
Two cover-reviewers found humour in these tales: I saw none.