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Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: Stories
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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.

Customer Reviews:

  • strong images
    very strong images that will stay with you a long while. diverse and unusual subjects all somehow very compelling. these are attributes that come from great writing....more info
  • strong images
    very strong images that will stay with you a long while. diverse and unusual subjects all somehow very compelling. these are attributes that come from great writing....more info
  • Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
    The nine stories in this book are all funny but also somewhat fierce, they are all so surprising, nothing can prepare you for what will hit you next. My favorite story is Retreat, being able to see how tragic the brothers relationship is, but also how close they are, and how funny it is that their relationship can be both of these things at the same time. The stories make you feel pity for the characters, which can also make you laugh, making you feel rather guilty. These stories have been so well written, you will never forget them. ...more info
  • crude thinking again and again
    At first I thought it might just be a question of a particular character's limitations reflected through a story's voice, but the same dull, crude thinking recurred. There are other more or less young male short story writers out there who are infinitely more interesting and less madly overhyped. Aleksandar Hemon, Peter Cameron, and Richard Lange, for instance, all seem to have much more interesting minds....more info
  • The kind of MFA-schooled writing that critics like these days.
    But once you get past the glittering surface, there's not much depth. I can see this author would be a good journalist. He's got a great eye for details, and if some of his descriptions fail, it's only because he's trying so hard. But fine writing is not enough. There just isn't anything more going on in these stories....more info
  • brilliant new voice / don't judge book by crappy cover
    the title story is a true classic of the genre; many of the others rise nearly as high. a pleasure to read. watch this kid. funny, humane, and a brilliant stylist....more info
  • Everything clever, everything "buzzed"
    I picked up this volume recently, enchanted by the charm of its title. Why I fall for this every now and then, I do not know. Perhaps, I am hoping for something new and fresh. That maybe, this time, a new writer will really be substantive and different--like all the blurbs say and promise.

    The short story just isn't what it used to be. Flannery O'Connor this young man with another funny Southern name is not. I think of all those rich and memorable, deep as hell, riveting short stories I read in college (back in the old days! the 1980's!) and I feel so sad. Despite some good writing here, what I got from this collection are smart, clever sentences (wordo-ology?) without the necessary depth and meaning to support them. The canned praise becomes all the more so as I read along.

    Who cares?

    I think of the richness of Cheever, Eudora Welty, O'Connor, and I weep. The short story was once a brilliant expression of things human and utterly real. Now it is a vehicle to "getting published". Or worse, the mode in which all the MFA programs operate. I read The New Yorker, Harper's, occasionally, The Atlantic, and I almost always bypass the short stories for they are merely little billboards to introduce the latest literary darling. It's really a ploy. And that wasn't so in the heyday of the American short story--when people really read them.

    And they actually mattered.

    So more than likely, we will see a novel from this author--and it will be praised by the lit camp--etc. And it will ultimately disappoint. I love beautiful writing, I think of Marilynne Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING, GILEAD, and her latest. I also love a good narrative--classicists like Mark Helprin, (a totally under-looked writer, while the aforementioned Robinson isn't.) For shame.

    ...more info
  • Wit Piled High
    I usually can't stand witty books; usually they are too caught up in the "punchiness." I usually find myself gravitating towards dark, grim books. But this collection of short stories is very different. As the other reviews make clear, Tower is gifted in that he is lyrical, but often understated. What is so unusual is how I found myself, for the first time in 10 years, since I read a Philip Roth book on a plane, literally laughing out loud. I haven't grown bored of any of the stories and find myself craving the next one. Well worth it, even if you end up laughing just a bit and enjoying a strange view of the world - which ends up mirroring reality pretty well....more info
  • I did not like this book
    I did not like this book. Nothing fancy or too in depth in my opinion. Sorry. Actually I can't read any more of it and I will return it. Want to read a great book? Read Driftless by David Rhodes. I was hoping this book would compare....more info
  • A bit over-rated
    These stories are extremely good, but the reviews in the NY Times are too laudatory. The writing is spectacular in many places, pop-culture generated grammatical slips aside in a few spots, and the voice is strong.

    I found a low level of emotional depth in most of the stories and I was surprised by the experience given the writing....more info
  • Not so happy homes
    Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: Stories
    It would not be entirely misleading to compare Wells Tower to Raymond Carver. Some similarities are apparent in these stories of Tower's. The prose is sparse and direct. People are trying to get their lives in order, but mostly failing. Drink often has something to do with it. The protagonists are not necessarily bad people - we see signs of kindness from several of them - just folks who have made mistakes.

    Real things happen in the nine stories in this volume - animals die, a child is molested, men are beaten up, drugs are dealt, and so on - but the focus typically is on the hollow or scarred interiors of the characters, primarily men. Many are in seemingly transitional situations, but in most cases we are left with the sense that their lives are probably going to get worse.

    Domesticity has been disrupted one way or another in each story. Spouses have separated, relatives tangle, step-parents intrude, and adult children have yet to get their lives together. They often reside temporarily in bleak dwellings, among them a decaying pink cinder block cottage on a "brown coast" with no beach, a cabin that is under construction and "starting to resemble something you'd buy your mistress to wear for a weekend in a cheap motel," a cramped West Village studio apartment "which was the architectural equivalent of a biscuit dough remnant," a shotgun cottage with "a million black wasps chewing holes in the clapboards," and a bunk in a carnival train car.

    In several of the stories the chief characters live in or near woods, but typically in borderline areas with development encroaching. In "Retreat," Matthew is a real estate developer who plans to turn his Maine mountain forest land into one-acre plots for outdoorsy men. He and his estranged brother and his older friend share a quintessential male bonding and cleansing ritual: killing a moose and then field dressing it and taking it home to eat. The experience offers some hope for repair of the brothers' lives, but it doesn't quite work out.

    Intentional or not, Tower contrasts the lost possibilities represented by the outdoors settings to the alienated lives of his chief characters. Matthew's brother Stephen, for example, is a music therapist and amateur composer who laments that anybody could do the music therapy sessions, that "You just march them through exercises. The composing, it's all I do.... I don't go out. I don't meet people. I sit in my [horrible] apartment and write. I could have spent the last two decades shooting heroin and the result would be the same, except I'd have more experiences to show for it." In "Executors of Important Energies" the narrator is an industrial designer who claims that, "you could say I'd had one real success, a machine that melted down your spare plastic grocery bags and poured the rendered plastic into interchangeable molds (golf tee, pocket comb, bicycle tire lever, etc.)." He calls himself "... a foot soldier in mankind's never-ending struggle for convenience, and how the small, unobserved technologies - remote key fobs, ball-point pens, Q-tips - shaped our lives in more significant ways than music, books, or film."

    The final story, that of the title "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned," initially seems quite different. It is set in Viking times, not in the present. It is very funny, partly because the characters are so nonchalant about what they do - raping and pillaging - and partly because of the modern idiom Tower employs in the conversational narrative. Harald and Pila live in comfortable domesticity compared to the characters in many of the other stories, in a "fine little wattle-and-daub cabin on a wide blue fjord stabbed into the land." In fact, Harald is the one man in the book who appears to get along well with his wife. However, he goes off occasionally on raids with his comrades. In this story they venture to Lindisfarne to deal with a turncoat Norwegian monk whom they suspect of casting spells sending dragons and causing crop blights. While the raiding party is wreaking havoc among the Lindisfarne residents Harald and his friends Gnut, Haakon, and ?rl choose to sit it out in the abode of Bruce and his daughter Mary. Gnut takes a shine to Mary and announces that he is taking her away with him to be his wife. Harald questions Gnut, "This a voluntary thing, or an abduction-type deal?" The latter, it turns out.

    It also turns out, I believe, that there is indeed a plausible connection between this final story and the others. Each of the stories has merit, but they also integrate. Tower has obvious talent. While this is his debut book he is no novice, having written for The New Yorker and other literary periodicals. I will continue to read whatever he puts out as long as it is up to this standard....more info
  • Pleasantly, what I expected...
    I first came across Wells Tower in Outside Magazine a few months ago. After reading his article about tubing down the rivers of Florida to make it to the ocean, I immediately fell in love with his style.

    Each story deals with some facet of family life, and each is a snippet of time in that life. Tower does a great job of character development in just a few pages, and he conveys his themes both directly and indirectly.

    In the last story, Everything Raged, Everything Burned, he tells the story of a viking horde that goes around pillaging. It is at times a gruesome tale, but it conveys the mental conflicts that many soldiers have even today: the savagery of warfare, the necessity to defend oneself and his family, and the fear of the possible retribution for one's own savage acts.

    Tower did it well with this collection, and I look forward to his future releases....more info
  • My Interest Flagged
    I read the first few stories but couldn't really develop a sufficient interest to continue. Yes, the concepts are highly unusual, but the execution itself was not to my liking. Feel free of course to try it yourself since many other reviewers have been ecstatic....more info
  • Next Time
    There is a better writer behind these stories. They seem to be edited to death. Looking forward to the next batch, hopefully with another editor (or maybe skip the Writers Workshops this time.)...more info
  • hot damn
    For the longest time I've been in a rut with fiction: tried and true writers who are going through the motions, writing novels because, well, that's what they do, and never mind their occasional short stories (a more demanding craft, I've always thought). New writers sometimes lure you in with an impressive story or two, then you splurge for their books and the rest is sort of blah. Wells Tower is, quite simply, the most exciting new writer I've come across in five years or so. An astonishing stylist, he makes you see the world fresh--"Three days out, the sun punched through the dirty clouds and put a steely shimmer on the sea" (picked at random more or less)--every line a burnished little gem. But he's not simply some cut-rate Nabokov (I adore Nabokov) filing away at his syllables: he's funny, insightful, and has what I can only call a bonafide tragicomic vision of life. Blah blah! I don't want jinx this guy with a lot of hype. Read Wells Tower! Do it! My fingers are crossed for his novel. I can't wait....more info
  • Excellent story collection
    Funny, well-written, and expertly crafted. These stories are hilarious and written simply, but they resonate with an enduring importance that lasts well beyond the final line. "Retreat" is one example - a phenomenal ending that ranks up their with the greatest short stories....more info
  • Short Stories From The Edge
    Wells Tower's first book EVERYTHING RAVAGED, EVERYTHING BURNED, a collection of nine short stories previously published, is peopled with families disrupted by separations and divorces-- thus the obligatory stepfamilies-- demented parents, a octogenarian who smokes a reefer, disfigured characters, an obsese ten-year-old, a child molester, two teenaged girls awakening to their sexuality and flirting dangerously with olden men. The stories are set in the present-- there is at least one reference to both the War in Iraq and the failing economy-- with the exception of the title story that takes place sometime in the past when Viking raiders attack island settlers. The picture is not pretty.

    Some of Tower's characters could have spent time with those of T. C. Boyle and Tobias Wolff. Many of them have just hit a sand bar in their lives or encounter one in the stories. They sometimes do acts of cowardice and lead lives of quiet desperation. Their saving grace- at least for some of them-- is that they kick against the pricks. And Towers makes these characters become flesh and blood with language that is both apt and succinct. In the opening lines of the first story, "The Brown Coast," Bob Munroe "woke up on his face," covered with bits of crackers from a dinner of "two bricks of saltines." In "Down Through The Valley," my faorite story, Ed, the narrator, after he catches his wife Marie with her meditation teacher, had sought a new lover, someone from his office, whom he describes as "molten in my bed, but she also suffered depressions that were very dear to her." (Sound like anyone you know?)The narrator Matthew in "Retreat," in a love-hate relationship with his less financially successful brother Stephen, who has a thing against people who "don't smell heavily of thift stores, expects his life to be filled "with the winds of increase plumping my sails."

    In all this darkness and violence, however-- the title story is particularly bloody in that one of the Vickings carves out a victim's lungs while he is still breathing-- there are certainly passages to make you smile. For instance in "Executors of Important Energies," the narrator pictures his sixty-year-old father suffering from dementia as "a connoisseur of the chance encounter, he would have tried to speak the language of cockatoos if one touched down beside him." Then there is the narrator in "Door in Your Eyes," who when visiting his daughter-- who at 41 had "turned into one of these girls who carries a big load under her belt"-- makes an tremendously funny discovery about his daughter's neighbor who lives across the street.

    Mr. Towers has said that "there's a lot of joy out there, even if we don't often find it. I think that fiction should find opportunities for joy." I would argue that it is often difficult to see much joy in the lives of many of his characters; you have to look carefully to find that joy, a joy that is often perilously close to sorrow and pain. Ed in his love of his daughter in "Down Through the Valley and Harald in "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" may come as close as any of these characters get to love and joy. In Harald's words: [after he and his wife have had twins] "I got an understanding of how terrible love can be. You wish you hated those people, your wife and children, because you know the things the world will do to them, because you have done some of those things youself. It's crazy-making, yet you cling to them with everything and close your eyes against the rest of it." Whether or not these characters find joy, they are-- at least some of them-- as alive as your own family and you will remember them long after you have finished reading these stories....more info