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Controlled Burn: Stories of Prison, Crime, and Men Hardcover – April 5, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

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Starred Review. To say that these beautifully written, deceptively simple stories are loosely connected is to miss a large part of the point. The collection, divided into two geographical sections ("The Northeast Kingdom" and "The Fugitive West"), begins with a man trapped into becoming a drug informant; it ends with another man getting the same treatment from the authorities. All the stories, including three that have been published in recent Best American Mystery Stories anthologies, share certain themes: life in prison; a fascination with guns and violence, even among men who aren't career criminals; the despair of working-class life, especially in jobs on the fringes of economically depressed areas. A man on a prison farm buries the bodies of dead convicts while a deer caught on an electric fence burns in the background. A gang of Hispanic fighters descends from Canada to challenge workers at a logging camp in bloody battles. Wolven's prose is as cold and sharp as an ice crystal: "If I'm not here day after tomorrow," a sheriff tells the narrator of "Atomic Supernova," "you go ahead and kill Bob Burke and we'll figure it all out later." Wolven's not as romantic or sympathetic as Hemingway, but it's hard to think that Papa wouldn't appreciate his artistry and imagination.
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"Dufris masterfully embodies each character with a hard-edged truthfulness." ---AudioFile --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1St Edition edition (April 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743260112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743260114
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,939,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Wolven's outstanding debut collection of thirteen short stories are arranged in two geographic sections, "The Northeast Kingdom" of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, and "The Fugitive West" of Idaho, Montana, and western Washington. But regardless of the location, the characters are cut of the same cloth. This is a book populated by tree cutters, truck drivers, cons, ex-cons, brawlers, alcoholics, crystal meth heads, white supremacists, scrap metal workers, and bikers -- a host of tough men who are born to lose. Many of the characters weave in and out of the various stories and to a certain extent, the stories cover a lot of the same themes in a lot of the same ways. Yet Wolven's voice is so strong and his writing so matter-of-factly taut that each is gripping and the overall effect is devastating.

The book's opener, "Taciturnity", sets the tone for all that follows: a tough old woman orders local tree men to cut down the three ancient oaks on her property that provide shade for her new neighbor, a policeman who didn't cut her grandson any slack. Here are encapsulated a number of the books' recurring motifs: terse blue collar workers, tough old-timers, ambivalence and suspicion toward the law, and a definite sense of making one's own justice. "Outside Work Detail" is set in a minimum security prison, where men detailed to dig graves in the frozen ground watch as a deer impales itself on an electrified fence and bleeds to death. The symbolism is perhaps a little too in-your-face, but it works. "El Rey" is a brutal story revolving around an impromptu boxing match at a logging camp between the local hard case a Latino fighter up from New York. "Crank" is about a couple guys putting together a meth lab in the woods and all the bad stuff that leads to.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer on April 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover

These are the most raw, brutal, lyrical and hard stories I've read in an age.

I meant to read a story a night and ended up consuming the entire book at once. There is a part of every human being capable of creating only grief and ruin, leaving chaos in their wake. Wolven writes of these people.

The stories are intertwined over years, location or happenstance who's protagonists cross over into oblivion of their own making. It is an oblivion we've all at least set a toe into, scuttling away, scared by what we saw and felt. The men in these stories embraced it, breathing it into every cell.

Wolven's work has appeared in the Mississippi Review and three (2002, 2003, 2004) Best American Mysteries collections. He is a must read for any connoisseur of the short story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BJ on June 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Outstanding collection of short stories!

I bought this book after reading only a few reviews and it paid off. "Controlled Burn" is one of the best short story collections I've read in awhile.

The book has thirteen stories, all worth reading!

After reading the first two stories, I felt the writing was great, but the stories were slow and very humble. Once you hit the third story "El Rey", the book never looks back and every story gets better and better.

Meth dealers, boxers, fugitives, alcoholics, fathers, sons, gangs, bounty hunters, dogs - their all here in "Controlled Burn".

A few that really blew me away -

Ball Lightning Reported
Atomic Supernova
The Copper Kings

A great collection, if you enjoy short stories, this book is a must read!

If you read "Controlled Burn" and enjoyed it, also check out "Poachers" by Tom Franklin & "The Hotel Eden" by Ron Carlson, both amazing books of short stories.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By sfarmer76 on August 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Controlled Burn, $22.00, is a debut collection of short fiction from New York author Scott Wolven. To give you a good feel for what he's got here, I can only offer an analogy. If Ernest Hemingway had written Winesburg, Ohio as a rough and tumble - instead of Sherwood Anderson, - and moved the place setting of those stories to both New England and the American West, the end result would resemble something akin to this collection.

Outside Work Detail is the tour de force of this bunch. In a prison tale on par with Stephen King's work, two St. Johnsbury, Vermont convicts (that have endured too much) dig graves for their fellow inmates in the prison cemetery during a snow storm, only to witness an act of nature that's almost cruelly indescribable. The three main characters - Ray Cooper, Russ Harper, and Reb Phillips - are spot on, and their spooky dealings are wryly observed. My favorite line? "That's one thing you don't get on the outside, to watch your own grave dug..."

Next to that, Tigers is a melancholy stunner. Ostensibly a tale of love gone wrong, the story concentrates on Ann Latham, her young son Jimmy, and her tree-cutting boyfriend, Mark Hoff. Parts of this tale of triangulation are saccharin sweet, but by the very end, Wolven tears your heart out and laughingly throws it on the floor. I really find Wolven's use of return and reverberation in this story to be irresistible, and I couldn't have done a better job if I'd written it myself! If you can't cry on the inside some, while you're reading this account, you're truly not human.

Taciturnity, the book opener, is a nine page account of foreboding. I love the language and the dialogue, as it is exactly perfect.
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