book review: everything ravaged, everything burned*

* This is Brent's review, with a note from me at the bottom. He thinks the book will be too upsetting for me...so I am not going to read it.

by Wells Tower

First off, I borrowed this book from the library and I have to say that Nicole and I are loving our re-discovery of the library. Free books! And it’s perfectly legal! (Do the publishers know about this?)

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a collection of short stories that has been hailed as a masterwork that will return the short story form from exile. I’m not so sure. The first four stories are about men who are, well, losers. These stories are well-written and satisfying in a thank-goodness-that’s-not-me-but-maybe-there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I kind of way. And they do “rescue” the short story in that they tend not to leave you wanting more. 15-20 pages of these guys and you pretty much get where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going. The stories are interesting and entertaining, but no one needs more than a vignette of these fellows.

The first four stories are so similar that my hunch is that most reviewers stopped reading and assumed that the rest of the book followed the pattern, because Tower is hailed as a writer of men’s stories. But Tower doesn’t just stick to these men. The middle stories are about kids, including one narrated by, gasp, a girl. These stories are somehow less satisfying. For example, divorce is a constant theme in the book, but a divorced man is different from a child of divorce. The guy is going to be lonely and regretful. But the kid are dealing with all kinds of stuff about whether Mom and Dad still love them and how to deal with Stepmom or Stepdad. We get a snapshot of a particular kid at a particular time but it’s not enough to fill in the arc of the kid’s life. And so, like many an American, I’m left wanting more of the story. I don’t need a happy ending but I need and ending.

The last couple of stories get gruesome in parts – the title story is about Vikings – and just left me feeling queasy. All very realistic stuff I suppose, but I feel like this book was enough of that sort of thing for me. Tower’s a very good writer but I hope he’s got more tricks up his sleeve.

A note from Nicole: The cover of this book is so similar to the cover of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that I had to find out more about the time line of publishing. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was published by Alfred A. Knopf in the US on September 16, 2008. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, on March 17, 2009. I suppose then, that ER,EB copied TGWTDT, but who knows really. Kind of interesting.

No comments: