“Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” by Wells Tower

I am FINALLY getting to The Morning News2010 Tournament of Books short list, after a spate of book group and book-group-book related reading. My hope is to read twelve of the sixteen*. There’s little possibility of me accomplishing all 12 by March 1, when the tourney begins. But darn it, I’m going to try.

First up was Wells Towers’ brief and devastating story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. No false advertising there; these are bleak, brutal stories. The central characters, young and old, male and female, are struggling to make meaning in their lives, even as any hope flickers and dies. Take the opening paragraph:

Bob Munroe woke up on his face. His jaw hurt and morning birds were yelling and there was real discomfort in his underpants. He’d come in late, his spine throbbing from the bus ride down, and he had stretched out on the floor with a late dinner of two bricks of saltines. Now cracker bits were all over him–under his bare chest, stuck in the sweaty creases of his elbows and his neck, and the biggest and worst of them he could feel lodged deep into his buttock crack, like a flint arrowhead somebody had shot in there.

The writing is spare and sharp, the characters easy to know, the humor dark and fleeting. If you’re looking for a brief, beautifully written collection of ugly stories, this is for you. If you’re feeling fragile? Best stay away.

*I hope to read:

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood
The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis
The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Big Machine, by Victor Lavalle
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower
Lowboy, by John Wray

And am probably not going to try for these, as their descriptions and reviews don’t excite me:

Fever Chart, by Bill Cotter
Miles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun
That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo
Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie

4 Responses to ““Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” by Wells Tower”

  1. Amy Says:

    If it helps, the ToB doesn’t actually start until 3/9. Surely you can do four more books in that time! ;-)

    Speaking of which…book exchange soon? I’m done with Gate at the Stairs and nearly done with Anthologist (which I’m really enjoying). I hesitate to say I can get Wolf Hall to you before the Tournament opens; it’s a long read. So maybe we should exchange the ones I’m certain of while I tackle Wolf Hall? I’m also trying to finish up the Virginia Woolf read-along I’ve been involved with; one book left. And you know Woolf–she’s a quick snap of a read. Not.

  2. Kate Says:

    Yeah, I wasn’t a huge fan of Miles from Nowhere. It wasn’t awful or anything, just not my cup of tea exactly. It was very quick, though. Because of your warning, however, I’m probably not going to get to Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Probably won’t do Year of the Flood either, even though I love Atwood. Post apocalyptic makes me a little weird and sad. Also, Book of Night Women, if I remember correctly, also sounds horribly sad. Didn’t I just read somewhere (The Millions, Blog of a Bookslut?) about someone having sad-bookaphobia? That’s me!

    Maybe I’ll read the ones you don’t plan on reading and then I can just read your reviews of the ones you read and I don’t!

    But yes, for sure read Let the Great World Spin. I bought that one and was glad I did. It’s no Wolf Hall, but it was very good.

  3. girldetective Says:

    Yay for the 3/9 start date! That helps a lot. Yes, Amy, to book exchange soon. I’m in the middle of Logicomix now.

    Kate, if you only are going to read happy books, which on the list are you going to read; most of them look pretty dire. In addition to Everything Ravaged, Lowboy was very dark.

    I have a good friend who, after the birth of her second child, no longer could tolerate sad books and movies. She reads mostly non-fiction and Wodehouse. I think it comes and goes in waves for me. I’m feeling pretty resilient now, but we’ll see after I finish some of these. Why are downer books more often deemed better than upbeat ones, ditto dramas and comedies in the movies. A good comedy is a rare gem, and they should be more widely celebrated.

  4. Kate Says:

    I have this same thought as I read these books–why are so many “better” literary novels so darn dark? And don’t get me wrong–Miles From Nowhere was very dark. It really depends what I can handle when. Wodehouse is always good, though. :)

    Post-apocalypse stuff is almost always a no go (I only made it through half of season one of Battlestar Gallactica, and while I loved World War Z, I almost couldn’t do it. I KNOW. ZOMBIES. Sigh.).

    Well, I’m through four of them so far, and while I do wish there were some less sad books on the list, I’ll probably read most of them but the ones I mentioned.

    What does your friend read in non-fiction? Sometimes I find that more depressing than dark fiction. Elizabeth Kolbert’s three parter in the New Yorker on the environment (The Climate of Man) a couple of years ago put me in a bad funk that winter. I pretty much never read her bylines anymore.