four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
By: 
Wells Tower
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-Everything RavagedWells Tower’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, and the Washington Post Magazine. Several of his short stories, including "The Brown Coast" and "Leopard," have been previously published, and others have been revised since their original publications. Tower received the Plimpton Prize (from the Paris Review) and two Pushcart Prizes.

The Story: In this debut collection of nine short stories, Tower explores the messy lives of beaten down men—unemployed, disinherited, luckless, and very, very angry. "Down Through the Valley" finds a man reluctantly driving his ex-wife’s new husband home after the new husband injures himself, with grim results. In "Leopard," an 11-year-old boy struggles with the loathing he feels for his overbearing stepfather. In "The Brown Coast," a man languishes in an uncle’s dilapidated cottage, pondering the loss of his wife and his job. And "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned," the only story not set in contemporary America, features a reluctant Viking raider beginning to rethink his career as a city sacker.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 238 pages. $24. ISBN: 0374292191

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In the collection’s finest story, ‘On the Show,’ Tower writes with spellbinding virtuosity. … [O]ne suspects we’ll be hearing his name—which invokes prose that is both soaring and deep—for a long time to come." Jim Ruland

Miami Herald 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Tower’s language is so precise, so funny, that you’ll find yourself laughing and then, after some reflection, come to realize that the situation isn’t actually all that amusing. … [His] ability to hint at things below the surface accounts for the immense joy these stories bring." Andrew Ervin

New York Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This arresting debut collection of stories decisively establishes Mr. Tower … 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." Michiko Kakutani

St. Petersburg Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Wells Tower writes like a man writing for his life. … Like the artist in a sushi kitchen carving roses out of radishes and marigolds out of carrots, Tower knows how to turn the ordinary stuff of life into something amazing." Kit Reed

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] fantastic new collection of short stories. … [Each story] mixes humor and violence and pathos in a way that makes Tower’s collection a strangely affecting menagerie of busted-up lives people are trying to put together." Frank Bures

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] striking, often savage first collection of stories. … Tower’s language is as compact and muscular as a wrestler’s body." Heller McAlpin

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Laboring to be amusing, [the title piece] is little more than a semi-grotesque contraption. The Asterix cartoon books did this kind of thing better and more lightly." Richard Eder

Critical Summary

Critics described this collection as visceral, contemplative, and inappropriately side-splitting, and were captivated by tales of men and their roles as fathers, stepfathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and ex-husbands (only one story featured a female protagonist). Reviewers further marveled at Tower’s ability to take readers from gut-clutching hilarity to gloomy introspection and back again in compact, descriptive language. Although critics disagreed about which stories were the best, only the Boston Globe cited "weaker," "choppy," and "overlong" entries. Overall, Tower has created a stunning collection of stories that will linger in the hearts and minds of readers.