Staff Reviews: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned / by Washington Square

This week I raced through some debut fiction by one of the hottest new writers in the publishing world today.Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower, is an electrifying, ravaging work; it is a collection of stories that captures some of the gritty gothic old feel of Joyce Carol Oates, and some new freshness and irony for a new generation. Tower is capturing the half-ruined world of a lower-middle-class, male population in most of these stories. Booze features largely, as does infidelity and divorce. Compromised lives and broken dreams are a given; now there can only be the hope of some sort of peace or healing from trauma and old wounds. The lives of his characters certainly have been ravaged and burned. Wells uses dialect and idiom well, but also shows his writing chops when he describes the ocean, the woods, the eerie lights of a carnival. He has been selected as one of the New Yorker’s “20 under 40″ to watch, and I’ll be awaiting his next collection or novel eagerly.A favorite story of mine was definitely “On the Show”, a story about the underbelly of the carnival world. Tower lets his writing abilities relax and unfurl in this story, becoming more lyrical and sinuous in style, using the present tense to allow the sights and sounds and smells of the carnival, in all its filthy splendor, to come to life. The peripheral characters operate on a dreamlike plane; nearly everyone has a story, some reason to be felt for.

Another highlight is the clever title story, which is about a crew of Vikings out on a pillaging trip, but is told in modern vernacular, as if a bunch of bar buddies today decided to go burning and looting as an ordinary weekend activity. It’s funny and oddly touching.

Other stories in the collection still felt like the work of a new writer to me, someone anxious to prove himself capable of imitating familiar structures. “The Brown Coast” pulls in its main story and compliments it with a “B” line story about fish that represents the main action too neatly, not allowing the story to breathe and become messy and life-like. That, though, is a nervousness that will probably evaporate as this writer continues to develop his confidence and his already impressive powers.