Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: Stories
Title: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

Author: Wells Tower

Pages: 238

Source: From Picador, through the Goodreads First Reads program

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First Sentence: "Bob Munroe woke up on his face."

Summary (From the back of the book):

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 car's 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. Wells Tower's version of America is touched with the seamy splendor of the dropout, the misfit: failed inventors, boozy dreamers, hapless fathers, wayward sons.

My Two Cents:

I read about this book in Bookmarks a few months ago, and it intrigued me. I've read plenty of contemporary short story collections written about contemporary subjects, but the fact that Tower wrote a story about Vikings caught my eye. So, when it showed up on the Goodreads list, I had to have it. Luckily, I won it!

Overall, this was a really well-written collection with a lot of humor. Maybe it's because I've been reading a lot of Updike lately, but I found myself laughing out loud several times, most notably at "Door in Your Eye," where an old man waves to his daughter from a suspected prostitute's apartment.

Tower's characters are exactly what the back of the book says they are: They're misfits and failures, but they don't really hold illusions about their lives. As a result, we get to see these characters in all their failed glory. There are no heroes here, which I liked. Tower's characters are just your average people plodding along in their lives, but he spotlights them in such a way to make them interesting.

I was disappointed, however, with the title story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned." Maybe I just built up my hopes a little too much, looking for a great story about Vikings. I was, overall, underwhelmed by this story. I did, however, like that the Viking characters spoke and acted as if they were in the modern world, but they were living their Viking lives. For example:

So Djarf, whose wife was a sour, carp-mouthed thing and little argument for staying home, was agitating to hop back in the ship and go straighten things out in Northumbria. My buddy Gnut, who lived just over the stony moraine our wheat field backed up on, came down the hill one day and admitted that he, too, was giving it some thought. ... His wife had passed years ago, dead from bad milk, and now that she was gone, the part of Gnut that felt peaceful in a place that didn't move beneath him had sickened and died as well.
In other words, I liked that, just because he was writing characters that existed in a different historical time, Tower didn't feel the need to change his writing style and language to suit that change in history. He made the Vikings a little more real, in my opinion, than if he were to write in language that "seems more Viking," whatever that may be.

My rating: 9/10


Greg Zimmerman said...

Nice review - definitely sounds interesting! Also, great to see another Bookmarks fan. Isn't it a fantastic magazine?!

Jenners said...

This sounds kind of fun actually. The descriptions of the stories sounds all over the map ... but in a good way. The one about the wife finding a footprint inside the windshield of her husband's car was intriguing ... how could you possibly explain that??????

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