Shya's Reviews > Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
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Mar 10, 2009

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I'll dispense with the easiest bit of criticism first: though it is the titular story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" is actually the only story set in something other than what I fairly assume to be present day, the only story to stretch realism. (All the rest of these stories are basically slice of life, NYer realism, with tinges maybe of hysterical realism.) I don't think this is quite fair however, this critique, seeing as how it could very well have been Tower's publisher and/or agent who ordered this collection, and chose what to include. Still, a strange choice, even considering the fact that such a title becomes emblematic of a basic kind of desperation and loss tucked deep within the characters of this collection.

As for the rest of the collection, or rather, "the book," if you go by a kind of exception-makes-the-rule perspective, there are certain things Tower is very, very good at. He's a master of the visual simile, for instance. At least once in every story--sometimes twice or three times--he comes up with something that, as a writer, fills me with that bittersweet mixture of enjoyment and envy. The kind of comparison that is at once completely disparate and yet totally right.

Another thing he's good at is creating gem-like little scenes that have the right balance of quirky, particular detail and familiar, straight description to make the reading quick and fluid yet improvisational and dreamy. The characters are invested in the scene, and bring a good measure of memory, abstraction, and analysis (though too many, perhaps, fail the kind of introspection you know Tower himself has, and this makes you wish he'd imbue his characters with more of their own).

So why only three stars? Well, basically, stars are bullshit. The short answer is I gave four stars, most recently, to Stoner, and this simply isn't that good, that mature, that wise. Tower is talented as fuck, but the biggest, most obvious shortcoming in this collection is that, for all their nimble blocking and deft characterization, the overall effect was wanting. I never felt like the primary characters had enough at stake (a terribly workshoppy thing to say, really, but there you go), and though there was driving force enough simply in the language of the stories, when they ended, I felt that not enough had been accomplished. It was really a consistent experience throughout the read, until the penultimate story, "On The Show," which basically did everything right.
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