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Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
WELLS TOWER

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
68 reviews (2009) (256p)
TIME Magazine Best Fiction Books

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Book Description

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.

Wells Tower's short stories and journalism have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Washington Post Magazine, and elsewhere. He received two Pushcart Prizes and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review. He divides his time between Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.

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.

"[An] incredible talent . . . It sometimes feels as if there's nothing Tower can't render in arresting fashion . . . Tower's prose is a welcome reminder that the first job of the fiction writer is to introduce the reader to worlds both new and familiar in ways they wouldn't have arrived at on their own . . . One suspects we'll be hearing his name—which invokes prose that is both soaring and deep—for a long time to come."—Jim Ruland, Los Angeles Times
"This arresting debut collection of stories decisively establishes Mr. Tower—a magazine journalist who has also won two Pushcart Prizes—as a writer of uncommon talent, a writer with Sam Shepard's radar for the violent, surreal convolutions of American society; Frederick Barthelme's keen ear for contemporary slang; and David Foster Wallace's eye for the often hilarious absurdities of contemporary life . . . Mr. Tower has an instinctive gift for creating characters with finely calibrated interior lives and an almost Dickensian physical immediacy. His writing can be darkly hilarious and grotesque and yet simultaneously attuned to his people's sense of loss and bewilderment and frustration. Indeed, he uses his reportorial talent for description to conjure the glum, shopworn world they inhabit . . . And he uses that same talent to convey the subtle shifts of mood that can take place among relatives or friends or strangers, as boredom, say, turns to irritation, or irritation mutates into violence . . . As in early Shepard plays, the focus tends to be less on relationships with women than on those with fathers, brothers, neighbors or children—relationships that somehow inform the hero's sense of place in the world, his competitive status or disadvantage in the Darwinian scheme of things. However despondent these men may be, they are usually granted a slender glimpse of hope or release or maybe even redemption, usually in the form of some beautiful landscape or creature that reminds them of Nature's benevolence and crazy possibilities . . . We eagerly devour these tales . . . for Mr. Tower's masterly conjuring of his people's daily existence, his understanding of their emotional dilemmas, his controlled but dazzling language and his effortless ability to turn snapshots of misfits and malcontents into a panoramic cavalcade of American life."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Book Review

"If the narrators and antiheroes of Tower's stories are half-defeated he-men, bumbling and only partly tamed, then their rivals or antagonists are self-­satisfied shamans or therapists or frontier socialists. In 'Leopard,' a young boy has a hateful stepfather who does nothing but make mulch and think up chores for the kid to perform. Addressing himself in the second person, the boy thinks, 'As a young liar, you can generally get pretty far on the assumption that adults have more important things to worry about than catching out a kid for every little fraud he tries to pull. But your stepfather seems to have plenty of time to study and doubt everything that comes out of your mouth.' If the intersection between hotheads and cool customers is one of the aspects of Tower's fiction, another is class conflict. In the story called 'Wild America,' a middle-class girl flirts with a louche stranger who plies her with beer, and for a moment she forgets the ordinariness of her life. But when he drives her home, her heart sinks: 'At the sight of her father, the fear went out of Jacey, and cold mortification took its place. There he stood, not yet 40, bald as an apple, and beaming out an uncomprehending fat-boy's smile. His face, swollen with a recent sunburn, glowed against the green dark of the rosebushes at his back. He wore the cheap rubber sandals Jacey hated, and a black T-shirt airbrushed with the heads of howling wolves, whose smaller twin lay at the bottom of Jacey's closet with the price tag still attached. Exhausted gray socks collapsed around his thick ankles, which rose to the familiar legs Jacey herself was afflicted with, bowed and trunk-like things a lifetime of exercise would never much improve. Her humiliation was sudden and solid and without thought or reason. But the wordless, exposed sensation overwhelming her was that her father wasn't quite a person, not really, but a private part of her, a curse of pinkness and squatness and cureless vulnerability that was Jacey's right alone to keep hidden from the world.' I quote this passage at such length because it reveals all the tensile strength of Tower's remarkable style. His syntax, though always easy to follow, is supple enough to wrap itself around several shades of meaning in the same sentence. His understanding of previously under-recognized feelings (in this case, the humiliation of family resemblance) is rich in detail and passionate in utterance. And his familiarity with the whole ghastly world of malls and 'cute' commercial culture is serious, even plangent, certainly not merely satirical. Every one of the stories in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is polished and distinctive. Though he's intrigued by the painful experiences of men much older than he is, Tower can write with equal power about young women and boys; about hell-­raising, skull-bashing ancient Vikings and an observant housebound old man of the 21st century, even about a cheerful, insouciant pedophile. His range is wide and his language impeccable, never strained or fussy. His grasp of human psychology is fre


Wells Tower Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 0  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 0  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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