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Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: Stories Hardcover – March 17, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The stories in this outstanding debut collection explore the troubled relationships of men down on their luck, in failed marriages, estranged from family, caught in imbroglios between sons and their fathers and stepfathers, and even, in Wild America, the subtle and ferocious competition between teenage girls. Bob Monroe, the protagonist of The Brown Coast, loses his job, his inheritance and his wife after the death of his father. The narrator of Down Through the Valley, meanwhile, is persuaded to drive his ex-wife's boyfriend home from an ashram after he injures himself. In Leopard, the threat of a missing pet leopard lurking in the woods hints at a troubled 11-year-old's rage toward his stepfather. The narrator of Down Through the Valley has a savage freak-out that terrifies him. The strange and magnificent title story, in which Vikings set off again toward an oft-raided island, beautifully ties the collection together in its heartbreaking final paragraph. Tower's uncommon mastery of tone and wide-ranging sympathy creates a fine tension between wry humor and the primal rage that seethes just below the surface of each of his characters. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics described this collection as visceral, contemplative, and inappropriately side-splitting, and were captivated by tales of men and their roles as fathers, stepfathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and ex-husbands (only one story featured a female protagonist). Reviewers further marveled at Tower’s ability to take readers from gut-clutching hilarity to gloomy introspection and back again in compact, descriptive language. Although critics disagreed about which stories were the best, only the Boston Globe cited “weaker,” “choppy,” and “overlong” entries. Overall, Tower has created a stunning collection of stories that will linger in the hearts and minds of readers.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374292191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374292195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By michael carroll on March 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I started to read this book skeptically, but from the first story found myself completely disarmed. My favorite stories are "Retreat" and "Wild America," both gorgeously unexpected treatments of their subjects (in the first, sibling relationships, and in the second adolescent girls and sexual discovery). Nothing I could say about the way Wells Tower goes into his stories could possibly prepare you for the surprising pleasures of his language. He's always funny without sneering or being self-satisfied in his conclusions regarding this big messy thing, "American culture." He's sly and humble. But his sentences--the core of any literary enterprise as far as I'm concerned--are at the crux of his art. Carefully wrought, they approximate the uniqueness and the varieties of personal experience. And did I mention how funny he is? Anyone who cares about word choice or a fresh eye trained on the observations he makes (in the tradition of Joy Williams or Richard Yates, say) will read them aloud more than once and chuckle. Beautiful.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These stories portray the ugliness of life in a uniquely satisfying way. These characters are not noble or lofty in their pursuits, ways, or beliefs. They are real, ugly, harsh, and selfish, yet they are complex, sympathetic, and relatable. Their stories are not neat little capsules that fit nicely into orderly rows, they are sprawling and confusing, with dead ends and twists and turns through unexpected territory. You're never quite sure where you are, or where you're going, and when you get there, you're not sure what to make of the view. The stories are not satisfying in the conventional sense, but they leave you with that feeling of deep understanding that all great authors do, and the journey is eminently enjoyable, thanks to the startling beauty of Tower's prose.
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I get this question all the time, "what authors are actually doing anything now?" and every time I always point that person in the direction of Wells Tower. I saw him speak two years ago at the University of North Texas, and realized that not only was he a fantastic writer, but he was also sharp as a tack and hilarious. Tower stood and orated to us, not from Everything Ravaged, but from his own personal unused work, or barely published material. It was like a breath of fresh air to see an author with so much steam and vigor. It appears he has a wealth of sources to draw from, and I am excited to see what he does next, but this collection will always be near and dear to my heart. Especially, the title story Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a great example of the quirky wit and magnificent spirit of Tower, along with his ability to play with the narrative form in an interesting way. I recommend.
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I usually like short story collections a lot. Like a lot a lot. Especially when they have a running theme and are fitted together seamlessly like Dancing Girls (Atwood) or In Our Time (Hemingway) or Close Range (Proulx). So, I was a little disappointed by this collection. I've read a couple of Wells Tower`s stories in The New Yorker, and really enjoyed them. He equally balances the absurd and the sad without beating you over the head with depressing-ness (like Annie Proulx tends to do).

I #lovelovelove the story "Leopard," which appears in the middle of the collection. I'd read it before in The New Yorker (You can read it here) and loved it then. It's about a little kid who fakes sick to stay home from school. His step dad-a royal bastard-knows he's faking it and makes him pick up the mail. The mailbox is quite a ways away since they live in the country and the kid has this inner monologue about how it's so unfair that his "almost a psychopath" step-dad would be so insensitive as to let his "sick" step-son walk half a mile to pick up the mail. Then he has this great idea of pretending to pass out on the road so his mom will find him there and feel really bad. Anyway, a police man shows up and everything gets SUPER tense. The whole story is this dramatic build-up. I kept thinking WHEN is the step-dad going to snap and attack the kid with that axe??

The other story that I liked a lot was "Retreat" about two brothers that sort of hate each other, but it all seems to be because of one misunderstanding after another since childhood. The older brother buys some land out in the boonies and invites the younger one to come hangout with him. He's trying to get the younger one to invest in the property so that they can turn it for a profit.
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Format: Hardcover
The stories delve deep, elicit emotion and resolve by leaving you wondering at the awkward alignment of symbols meant to replicate 'real life.' More than that, the sentences are crisp and clear, the narrator's eye taking notice of details of the emotional and, mostly, physical landscape of the characters that everyone misses in ordinary life. This is Modern American Fiction at its best, and yet it begs a question: Wasn't there some sort of revolution long ago in the arts that America's ivory-tower fiction dispensaries (ie, MFA programs) try so hard to ignore? Namely, just as in painting we now laugh at how a Van Dyke lets every ruby and thread on a garment shine, and feel more comfortable when Manet blurs the figure--which is closer to how we see the world--shouldn't the perfect alignment of symbols and the noticing of all details that these stories, and so many others, present, bother us? It certainly bothered me. Don't get me wrong, the stories show a smart, insightful, sensitive, industrious author at work. But it's exactly this banal American industriousness, this cleverness and ego in getting everything 'right', that's so irksome. Not that fiction should be riddled with error, recklessness or a lack of control, but that authors should risk something, make a reader feel like the story could implode, challenge us. These stories do none of that. They're perfect, like butterflies preserved under glass. I enjoyed looking at them. I enjoyed getting away from them and breathing some fresh air far more so.
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