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Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned 1st (first) edition Text Only Hardcover – January 1, 2008
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Top reviews from the United States
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So all of Tower's narrators are struggling with something: infidelity, dementia, roaming hordes of vikings. Instead of revelation each of the stories ends with the possibility of insight denied. The character remains a sad-sack, and the viking hordes remain over the hill. In an individual magazine story, this as a pattern does not stand out. Indeed, a few of these stories I had read in the their magazine print-runs and enjoyed MUCH MORE than when they are collected together and the format seems more much apparent. There are exceptions, the first and last stories of the book--the latter having the aforementioned viking hordes--do allow for revelation for their characters that seem neither cheap nor unrealistic, but the "realistic" sad-sack nature of the other main characters in all of Tower's stories are exposed as high artificial when put back to back. The consistency of Tower's plots because formal and frankly the stories become more boring than they otherwise are, and much more like a lot of other stories we have seen since Dennis Johnson's Jesus's Son.
So this does not move me as a collection: it is still worth reading, but to increase one's enjoyment I would suggest reading each story perhaps months apart from the prior and languishing on the line-by-line brilliance of Tower's prose.
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. Then they kill a diseased moose, which is kind of a metaphor for their entire relationship.
The other stories in the book share common themes of divorce, heart-break, retreat from society, and a desire to reconnect with nature. The stories all have male protagonists and just sort of end without obvious conclusion. They are simply slice-of-life and I LOVE that.
Then, out of now where, the collection ends with "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned." It's set in a different time when people live in huts and tents and fight neighboring tribes. This story features a protagonist who is married and very much in love with his wife (the total opposite of any other character in the collection!). In the story, another man finds a woman to love and marry. All of a sudden we go from totally emotionally effed up men escaping relationships through retreat to emotionally stable men who are eager to return home to their wives and domestic life. Plus, it has a conclusive, reflective ending.
Way to throw us off your scent Mr. Wells Tower!
Anyway, this is a pretty good collection, but I thought the stories could have been more cohesive. I mean Proulx's Close Range will the depress the hell out of you, but at least she's consistent.
I'd read the good reviews and kept seeing the book different places, my anticipation was building..
Wells Tower can write, extremely well. His stories are very, very well written and leave you wanting to know more at the end.
These stories are the kind most readers will either love or hate. The book consists of nine stories, with each story being around 18-30 pages long.
Of the nine stories, I like all but two of them. "Wild America" was long and didn't really go anywhere and the title story "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" didn't blow me away, as it did to some reviewers it seems. The story was supposed to have alot of WOW factor, but I've read too many other graphic stories for that.
My favorites were:
Down Through the Valley
Door In Your Eye
The great story "On the Show" has all the makings of a good novel and has a great cast of characters to go along with it.
Overall, a very good collection and a great start for Wells Tower~
Top reviews from other countries
The stories in this volume are as varied as they are engaging, united perhaps by their focus on characters in tenuous relationships that occur in unexpected places, and in each of them, Tower displays an acerbic wit and (at times) a macabre sense of humour, that gives him a resonance that is equal parts Raymond Carver and Chuck Palahniuk, and a yet unique voice.
In the first story, "The Brown Coast", Bob Munroe hides out in his uncle's chalet after a series of bad decisions and mishaps, and strikes up an accidental acquaintance with his new neighbours, Derrick and Claire, and tries to build an aquarium of sea creatures he finds trapped in the rocky shallows of the less than scenic shoreline that Bob had been led to expect. Claire hands him a brown slug to add to his collection which turns out to be a poisonous sea cucumber that wipes out his entire new sealife colony. While devastated, "Bob felt a kind of kinship with the the slug. Had he been born a sea creature, he doubted God would have robed him in blue and yellow like the splendid dead fish at his feet..... No, he'd probably have been family to this sea cucumber, built in the image of sewage and cursed with a chemical belch that ruined every lovely thing that drifted near." What he eventually does with the sea cucumber sums up Bob's perspective of this realisation of his place in this world, tongue firmly in cheek.
Tower's idiomatic sense of place, in both the American suburban, and the outbacks and desolate areas, and the dirty realism of his stories featuring overwhelmingly lonely and disconnected characters are especially reminiscent of Carver. The Scandinavian Vikings in the titular story that concludes the collection, stands out from the rest of the stories for its displaced time and place, as well for some of the most violent bloodcurdling scenes in the entire book, but the flawed Everyman figure that narrates the story is no more less relatable than the others, be they an 83-year-old man intrigued by a reputed but reclusive whore in the apartment building opposite his daughter's flat in "Door in Your Eye", the teenager who feels conflicted about her prettier cousin and makes a risky decision in "Wild America", and or the young layabout who outstays his welcome at his stepfather's in "On the Show".
This book was published in 2009 and there has not been a second published volume as far as I know, and I can only hope that the fuse hasn't blown out for Tower with such a brief spark of brilliance. More please.
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.
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.
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.
My copy came with a free panda. I believe it was a limited edition 'endangered species' edition. Am totally out of bamboo now. Might try Pop Tarts next.