Everything ravaged, everything burned

by Wells Tower

Hardcover, 2009





New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.


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.… (more)

Media reviews

El primer libro de Wells Tower, Todo arrasado, todo quemado, ha maravillado a la crítica estadounidense, que no ha dudado en calificarlo como uno de los mejores debuts literarios de los últimos tiempos. Medios como el New York Times, el New York Observer o el Publishers Weekly se han apresurado a dedicar páginas a este joven autor que, con tan solo un libro, ya ha sido comparado a escritores de la talla de John Cheever o Raymond Carver. Ahora el lector español puede disfrutar de estos relatos que, protagonizados por personajes a la deriva y escritos con humor e ingenio, muestran el portentoso talento de este ya imprescindible autor.

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
If this is the beginning of a career, it's hella fine and bodes so well for the rest of his earthly time that I am thrilled and grateful he decided to write.

The nine stories in the collection are the products of much careful observation, writing, and re-writing, and that shows in their craftsmanship. There are very few infelicities of style on display here. But what doesn't show, what's invisible to the naked eye, is the muse-touch that brought Wells Tower to our shelves. He's not a writer made, he's a writer born. How dare I assess a stranger's character? I dare because there are only a few times in life when the hairs on one's neck stand up and the palms of one's hands moisten when someone not right there *feels* like they are.

Tower is a star. He writes beautifully. He imagines fully the characters he presents to us. These are craftsmanly things, things I can teach someone to do. What I can't teach someone to do is to see so deeply into the reality of another's life. That makes Tower very unusual.

In every story in this collection, there is something unexpected. The last story, set in Viking times, is a complete departure from the present-day fringes-of-society settings of all the others...but only at first glance. The characters in Tower's fiction are all men looking for meaning in all the socially sanctioned places and not finding it. I can't think of a more evergreen plot off hand. But these men all have one thing in common that isn't superficial. They are all wounded from within by anger.

An angry Viking...yeah, so? The Viking in question, however, is wounded by the anger he feels at change, at the world daring to shift him into a new place. Like the other Tower men, modern men, he feels cut off from his source of meaning and connection. I don't think this is anachronistic, because I think that's been a human experience since scientific-Adam fathered the first huge batch of modern human males.

Why read about angry men, I hear the ladies murmur, we see 'em all the time...yes, I know, but ask yourself this: Why is anger so male an emotion? Why are men so ticked all the time? Turn to fiction for your answers. Betrayal of the trust a man reposes in others is a biiig one ("The Brown Coast", "Wild America", "On the Show"), or the inability of humans to cope with change ("Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned", "Door in Your Eye", "Executors of Important Energies")...in short, the same things that make women angry, right?

Not exactly. Tower's men, like the flesh-and-blood ones I know and love, are befuddled by the very fact of feelings. They aren't mad because you hurt their feelings, they're mad because you found them in the first place and THEN hurt them.

And they have no way to tell you this. So Tower had to do it for you. So he did. Go say your thank-yous at the cash register, buy his book, read it and apply your confusion to the real men in your life.
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LibraryThing member blackhornet
Easy to tell why Tower is creeping on to the radar as a short story writer of note. He's put together one of those quintessentially American collections where reflections on the minutiae of unremarkable lives somehow speak of much bigger things. I suspect he'll get compared to Raymond Carver, but these stories are messier than Carver's ultra-pared-down work and no bad thing too. The messiness is part of the charm and, at times, makes for very funny reading.

Thematically most of the stories deal with male angst, the daily frustrations of simply having to live life and get by. Two of the best stories, though, 'Leopard' and 'Wild America' are told from the perspective of young adolescents, the former a boy, the latter a girl. The frustrations here are even more poignant, tinged with the hope of youth.

The title story at the end is one no reader will forget. Fun and most definitely different from the other stories, its Viking narrator uses a hard-boiled street vernacular. Sounds tricksy, but it works, and thematically fits in: Vikings suffered from male angst too!
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LibraryThing member helpfulsnowman
Great book. Fantastic short stories that take us through snapshots without overly concerning themselves with where we're going so much as how we're gettting there. The last story, honestly, throws you for a loop, but if you stick with it to the end you'll be rewarded.
LibraryThing member ruthseeley
I was terribly disappointed by this collection of short stories after all the rave reviews, even more so because the title story was the weakest of the lot and was the final story in the collection.
LibraryThing member ericnguyen09
Once in a while, a book comes along that everyone loves. It digs deep into human nature and make you look at yourself and your neighbors in a new way.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is not one of those books. This, despite, critics all over praising it as the second coming of Mark Twain mixed with the observant short story craft of Raymond Carver. Wells Towers book has garnered praise from the likes of Edmund White, Michael Chabon, and Michiko Kakutani, who placed in her top 10 of 2009. Surely, this must be a good read.

For one, it's quirky. In "The Brown Coast," for example, the protagonist is kicked out of his house after his wife discovers a footprint on the car's windshield that isn't hers. In "Retreat," the main character's brother is a failed music therapist. In the title story, Vikings set off to conquer the world because they're bored. This, along with other examples, shows that Tower is the type of writer who can describe things that are new ways at looking at the world around you--an almost paradigm shift through prose wording. Tower describes the voice of geese as "nails being pulled from old boards." True and yes I have never heard of that, but true. He describes a racist old man looking at black people as: "leering wonderment at the man's precocity, as though he w ere watching a squirrel wash a cracker." Indeed, Tower has an eye for humor and a giddiness of language.

But it's a book, so if you read one story after another, all the stories begin to sound similar and the humor is annoying and reused quirkiness. Read every story here, and you will read 9 times about men who divorced their wives or lost their wives, and are now looking for a new life, which is not always that great. That is, read these stories and read about manhood gone awry, but read these stories and quickly forget about them. None of these stick and the collection is on the whole a disappointment. Of note might be "Wild America," a story about rival cousins, and originally published in A Public Space, but one would just have to question if this story sounds too similar to Oates's "Where Have You Been? Where Are You Going?" Other than this, this collection is begging to be skipped.

Well Towers would be easily forgotten if he didn't have good publicist or publisher.
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LibraryThing member dlgoldie
Reall well written compelling and creepy.
LibraryThing member agirlandherbooks
Wells Tower continues in the tradition of the great Southern short story, even when the stories themselves aren't set in the region. From a tale about an elderly wandering father to the angst of battle-weary Vikings, his prose covers the range of human emotions. It also doesn't hurt that he looks like Bruce Hornsby.
LibraryThing member literarilyspeaking1
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
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LibraryThing member rentie
This book is very well written. I liked the stories, but this book was by no means a "quick read". It is a great book for when you have time to think
LibraryThing member IntrinsiclyMe
There are funny bits-the oddest statements that would pop up and make me laugh. Most of the stories though showed how intangible happiness is. How depression can be lifted by the smallest thing, the world is beautiful again, and just as quickly come crashing back down into reality.

My two favorites were those that I didn't think at all depressing and definitely the funniest: Door In Your Eye, and Everthing Ravaged, Everything Burned… (more)
LibraryThing member theblindlibrarian
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
By Wells Tower
2010, Picador, (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Review by Debra Louise Scott

Wells Tower has put forth a delightful collection of “guy stories” (except for one about a teen girl). Even though I’m of the other gender, I thoroughly enjoyed them and found sardonic echoes of my father, my ex-husband, an ex-boyfriend, my brother-in-law and more. Wells writes from the gut while consistently turning out masterful twists of language, image and simile.

“What I heard of his music was gloomy, the sound track you might crave in an idling car with a hose running from the tailpipe, but nothing you could hum.” Retreat

Each story sounds like it’s being relayed by a good friend who has just accepted a beer and propped his feet up on the coffee table. The stories flip from intriguing, to humorous, to disturbing, to tragic, but all feel real. Wells especially goes out of his way to challenge the way we automatically pigeon-hole people and think we know who they are with just a glance. By the time we get through the short 30 odd pages of story, we see the character with a depth that usually takes a few chapters of a novel to achieve.

The exception to this was the one with a girl as the protagonist. She had a more shallow aspect, almost as if Wells heard the story from his sister and was trying to set it down in print, without really understanding what makes her tick. However the basis of the story was real enough and I found echoes of my own teenage traumas lurking among the words.

The only real issue I had with the writing was his odd propensity to make the last paragraph somewhat of a non-sequitur. Sort of like the storyteller was on his second or third beer by now and starting to drift.
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LibraryThing member TheBookJunky
Superb collection short stories. Dynamic, energetic voice.
LibraryThing member CarltonC
I enjoyed this varied collection of stories, and whilst most were very much about all American male failures, they lacked the sparse language of Carver.
The best was the last "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned", set around a Viking losing the urge to go raiding due to domesticity, but told with contemporary language.… (more)
LibraryThing member ktp50
Book of short stories. Each story seemed to be centered around a very specific particular human emotion. Talented writer and some of the stories are top notch. Really liked "Retreat" & "The Brown Coast" & "Down through the valley."
LibraryThing member Nicholae
Scathing and achingly beautiful, these stories are not to be missed. Though some in this collection read like exercises in a fiction workshop, there is no doubt that all of these stories have a power that points to great things in the future.
LibraryThing member dogman573
A standout among new work in freshness, accessibility
LibraryThing member icolford
Solid debut collection of short fiction by widely acclaimed author whose writing appears regularly in publications like the New Yorker and Harper's Magazine. For the most part, these stories shine a light on underachievers and wayward individuals trying to forge a path through a bewildering modern world. Some are their own worst enemies, others are thwarted by a past that refuses to let go. The characters in this volume make poor choices and seem to lack the self-realization necessary to build successful lives. Throughout, the writing is deeply imaginative, leavened by a pugnacious energy, and rises to the occasion again and again. The sole departure from the prevalence of contemporary America in the book is title story: set hundreds of years ago in a murkily Nordic landscape populated by warriors and farmers, but narrated in an expletive-drenched modern idiom. This story alone--filled with wry, edgy humor--is worth the price of admission. Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member Laura400
Hugely entertaining short stories. Funny and touching, gripping and vivid. Somehow reminiscent of Barry Hannah's early work.
LibraryThing member Sean191
I'd been looking forward to reading this book for some time. The description sounded great. Unfortunately, the description was better than the the actual work. The writing wasn't bad, it just wasn't stellar. That issue could have been negated by some truly creative stories, but that didn't happen either. The stories were largely forgettable and I feel like I've read similar many times before. I'm still giving it three stars because I feel like there's something there, but it needs to be developed. So, if Tower put out another work and people had good things to say about it, I'd probably be willing to give it a chance.… (more)
LibraryThing member clfisha
Brilliantly written slices of life.

"Not long after the affair had run its course, Bob and his wife were driving to town when Vicky looked up and saw the phantom outline of a woman's footprint on the windshield over the glove box. She slipped her sandal off, saw that the print did not match her own, and told Bob that he was no longer welcome in their home.”

Tower has an arresting style and an eye for character. He takes a sharp scalpel to a life and throws us a short glimpse, a Polaroid snapshot where there are more questions than answers. Mundane lives and everyday darkness’s, made interestingly ominous. There is a strong theme of familial rivalries and relationship break ups here from the sibling rivalry and middle aged fear in The Retreat to Down Through the Valley where our narrator views his ex-wives husband with jealously and dislike.

"I can't explain why I did these things, except to say that I carry a little imp inside me whose ambrosia is my brother's wrath.”

Some stories don't work: one has follows multiple people around a pivotal dark moment and loses focus and my interest. The other is a tale of Vikings and quite frankly Tower's humour and arresting style just fell flat to my English ears.

"He crossed the cockeyed patio. Tiny lizards scattered from his path. He followed the sound of waves to the end of the yard, through a stand of pine trees, limbless and spectral. He stepped from the pines onto a road paved with oyster shells whose brightness in the morning light made his eyes clench up."

Worth a look to just dip your imagination into a raw, wry masculine style. Recommended to short story lovers & fans of USA fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member nancyjean19
Funny, strange, compassionate -- everything I love in a short story. I heard about Wells Tower from the New Yorker fiction podcast, and the story I heard, "The Leopard," was probably my favorite. Several of them made me laugh out loud, though, and I even quoted one to a friend the other day, remembering when one character orders a Bailey's and tequila instead of one with kahlua but sticks with it. I'm looking forward to reading more of him.… (more)
LibraryThing member dmarsh451
A delight from beginning to end.
LibraryThing member mstrust
A collection of short stories, most them having a central theme of a displaced male and often a bad father/son relationship. In "The Brown Coast", the death of a father causes a man's marriage to fall apart and sends him to stay at a rundown beach property where he begins capturing sea creatures. In "The Executors of Important Energies", a young man who has had little parenting from his father is forced to spend an evening with him now that mental decline has made the father little more than a child. "Leopard" is about a boy who believes his stepfather hates him.
Tower creates realistic stories; there are no flights into fantasy, no surrealism. The plots often involve someone struggling to hold on to what little bit they have or to find something to do with themselves. Most often the main character is a man who has to start over after a marriage ending, financial loss or being kicked out by the parents. I was pulled into each new story immediately, though it did get a bit monotonous to have story after story about males wanting to find their place. There's one story told from the point of a teenage girl.
One other thing that I would have liked to have seen was a few stories that had more of an ending. I like a story that leaves the reader with multiple choices for what happened next, but Tower's endings aren't endings so much as an interruption in the middle of a conversation, like he meant to keep going but forgot what he wanted to say. I don't mean to dissuade anyone from reading this book because it's his first and it's pretty good.
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LibraryThing member DuffDaddy
It's not cold, but it won't burn your mouth.
LibraryThing member HenryKrinkle
I usually hate short stories, but these were great. A rare book that lives up to the hype surrounding it.
The characters do awful, strange things in their attempts to make order in their lives. Brutal, funny and humane. Well written, but not in that awful McSweeney's/Iowa Writer's Workshop sort of way.… (more)



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