BookBrowse Reviews Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned


by Wells Tower

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 256 pages
    Feb 2010, 256 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

Buy This Book

About this Book



Stories that offer a version of America touched with the seamy splendor of the dropout, the misfit

He opened the refrigerator, which was empty and breathed out a sour-thermos smell. Shrunken ice cubes lay in trays in the freezer, and Bob popped one out and stuck it in his mouth. It tasted like old laundry. He spat it into the dusty cranny between the fridge and the stove.

That passage appears at the end of the second paragraph of the first story in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, and it was at this point that I decided I was going to like Wells Tower's book. Sour thermos fridge. Old laundry ice cubes. That frightening no-man's-land down the side of the stove! Genius.

But I was nervous. Still on page one and already sold -- surely I was setting myself up for disappointment. Could the next 235 pages possibly follow through on the promise of the first? Would there be heart and meaning beyond the metaphors? I read on, and found that Bob -- the man who eats the old laundry ice cube -- is staying alone in his uncle's dilapidated beach house. A month before, Bob and his wife were driving together, when she "looked up and saw the phantom outline of a woman's footprint on the windshield over the glove box. She slipped her sandal off, saw that the print did not match her own, and told Bob that he was no longer welcome in their home."

That's when I decided I loved Wells Tower's book and continued to turn the pages, marking them up with glee. Which is not to say that the stories themselves are gleeful -- far from it. The pleasure is in Tower's language, his dead-on, completely original metaphors that render his characters and their world instantly familiar and real. He describes one character as "nearly all cheek, with small, crooked features that looked like they'd been stuck on in a hurry." Another laments for his hypothetical progeny, terrified that "by the time our little one could tie his shoes, his father would be a florid fifty-year-old who would suck the innocence and joy from his child as greedily as a desert wanderer savaging a found orange." In Executors of Important Energies, Towers describes a depressed, one-time trophy wife's house, "where all the sunlight in the place would not have been enough to run a solar calculator," and her stepson's apartment as "the architectural equivalent of a biscuit dough remnant."

Although Tower writes with the specificity and razor-sharp observations of a poet, his metaphors go down easy, coated in the sugar of a writer at ease with his craft. Not so for many new, talented, but trying-too-hard writers whose manufactured constructions still have the lingering scent of writing school exercises about them.

These are mostly stories of men -- broken, desperate, aged-out men who've cashed in all of their chips, but refuse to fold their last hand, even thought it's surely a bust. They're giving it one last go, but there is no swan song, just a sad refrain. Still, Towers steels them all with a measure of defiance, some furious, long-tamped passion that bubbles to the surface and fills them with a rage they used to know as desire.

Retreat dives into the violently contentious relationship between two grown brothers ("I carry a little imp inside me whose ambrosia is my brother's wrath"), one high on desperate fantasy, the other resigned to his miserable existence. Wild America, the lone story featuring two teenage girls, is ultimately about the sad-sack father who seals his daughter's awkwardness with his "uncomprehending fat-boy's smile... a curse of pinkness and squatness and cureless vulnerability that was Jacey's right alone to keep hidden from the world." The title story, the one about Viking marauders, is the real surprise of the collection -- a strangely funny, bloody experiment that ends up being about the terrible conundrum of love, family, and the accompanying terror of responsibility: "I got an understanding of how terrible love can be. You wish you hated those people, your wife and children, because you know the things the world will do to them, because you have done some of those things yourself."

Some writers are simply masters of the short story, writers like Raymond Carver or Amy Hempel, whose genius blossoms from the limits of the form, much like poets. Wells Tower is not one of these; he's simply a great writer who happens to be writing great short stories right now. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned makes me hunger for his first novel.

Reviewed by Lucia Silva

This review was originally published in April 2009, and has been updated for the February 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    by Hannah Tinti
    Hannah Tinti follows her spectacular 2008 debut, The Good Thief, with a novel of uncommon ...
  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...
  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    No One Is Coming to Save Us
    by Stephanie Powell Watts

    One of Entertainment Weekly, Nylon and Elle's most anticipated books of 2017.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Harvard is the storehouse of knowledge because the freshmen bring so much in and the graduates take so little out.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -