Title: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned // Author: Wells Tower // Publisher: // Farrar, Straus, and Giroux // Date: March 2009 // 256 p.
I mentioned last week that I’ve recently read a disappointing novel and a superstar new story collection. This superstar new short story collection, I’m pleased to announce, is Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. I’ve read Tower’s travel writing in Outside magazine, and some of the stories in this collection were previously published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harper’s, and McSweeney’s, among others. Not too shabby for a debut collection, I’d say. This book includes wildly imaginative stories of Viking marauders, teenaged girls, and fractured families. They’re violent and tender stories. They’re told with the kind of honesty that makes us see our worst selves in the best possible light.
Tower’s writing style is fast-paced and funny, but a dark undercurrent runs beneath even the lighter, laugh-out-loud moments. No one walks away unscathed from his or her predicament, as the collection’s title story “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” suggests (my favorite story in the collection, by the way).
In it, Viking characters named Gnut and Djarf and Haakon are slugging it out on the tiny island of Lindisfarne with the same urgency of those living in present-day Manhattan or Charlotte or Mendocino. In “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” we see how people have struggled from the beginning of time to balance their desire for the so-called “mainstream domestic groove” with their want of the reckless freedom that accompanies the sight of “land scooting away with every jerk of the oars.”
Adventures and literature lovers will find solace in this story collection. It’s entertaining and—even though it’s fiction—above all, it’s true.
You have to read Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, but if you want to read one of Tower’s above-mentioned Outside magazine articles, click here for “Meltdown,” the hilarious account of a trip Tower took with his father to Iceland and Greenland. Published in the mag’s April 2008 issue. Tower is an Outside correspondent and model travel-writer.
To read my more formal-type review of Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned on the About.com Contemporary Literature site, click here.