Vikings repillaging a town. Child molestation at a traveling fair. A fraternal feud at its culmination. Wells Tower’s eccentric collection of nine stories comprises what it means to be human and flawed in our relationships, romantic or not. Laced with crisp aphorisms and provocative analogies, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (2009) cements Tower as a master of the short form.
The opener, “The Brown Coast,” begins with a man waking on a kitchen floor in a vacation house he has no desire to be in. Stranded by location, family tragedy, and possible divorce the protagonist navigates the geography in distance and mild cynicism. He sleeps on a cot. He drinks too much. He steals fish from a tide pool to place in an aquarium. And when he gets involved with the neighbors a feuding and subtly desperate couple, things unravel.
And the other eight go on like this, in form and theme. Conventionally told and plausibly exposition heavy, all the strings that Tower has set for us in each story converge wondrously, sometimes leaving us satisfied, sometimes leaving us to ruminate further.
Tower’s worlds are brilliant and human. The plots are often dark: relationship problems or some kind of human sadness, balanced by Tower’s dark comedy. Each story contains our fundamentals, and ones that we are often afraid to admit to ourselves. Tower’s collection strives on want. The want for success, the want for love, the want to be better than our peers. The scenes created in the nine stories are often bittersweet, the kind of joy and upset and gnawing that is very much familiar.
The final and title story, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” lays the scene of Vikings en route to revenge a blight of crops cast on them by a malicious spell. Superficially in the fantasy genre, the story relates loss, grieving, and knowing when enough is enough. It is never about the Vikings. And much like the rest of the stories in Tower’s collection, the storylines leave us to dig, and what we exhume is rewarding and reflective of our human existence.
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower, 2009, 238 pages
Pairs best with strong drinks