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.