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Summary and book reviews of Controlled Burn by Scott Wolven

Controlled Burn

Stories of Prison, Crime, and Men

by Scott Wolven

Controlled Burn
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  • Published:
    Apr 2005, 224 pages

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Book Summary

Powered by a spare, ruminative prose style that recalls the best of Denis Johnson and Thom Jones, Controlled Burn is an unforgettable debut.

Once or twice a decade, an unknown short-story writer blazes onto the literary scene with work that is thrilling and new. Scott Wolven is such a talent, and his raw, blistering tales of hard-bitten convicts, dodgy informers, and men running from the law make for "the most exciting, authentic collection of short stories I have read in years," says George Pelecanos.

Brooding, edgy, and sometimes violent, Controlled Burn's loosely linked stories are each in some way a distillation of hard time -- spent either in prison, the backwoods of Vermont, or the badlands of the American West. Peopled by boxers, drunks, truck drivers, murderers, bounty hunters, drifters traveling under assumed names, and men whose luck ran out a thousand miles ago, these stories feel hard-won from life, and if they are moody and stark, so too are they filled with human longing.

Controlled Burn is divided into two sections: "The Northeast Kingdom" and "The Fugitive West." In each, Scott Wolven reveals a broken world where there is no bottom left to hit. In the haunting "Outside Work Detail," convicts stoically dig graves for their fellow prisoners yet reserve their deepest grief for the senseless death of a deer. "Crank" introduces Red Green, a maniacally brilliant addict who brews his own crystal meth in a backwoods lab, and whose high-energy antics inspire both cautious admiration and mortal fear in his business associates. In "Ball Lightning Reported," Red Green's ultimate fate is revealed. In "Atomic Supernova," a revenge-obsessed sheriff deputizes a known cop-killer to help him hunt down a counterfeiter and drug lord. The unexpectedly tender and heartbreaking "The Copper Kings" concerns a father facing the dark truth behind his son's disappearance. And in "Vigilance," a hunted man struggles to escape his past, always yearning for an honorable yet perhaps unreachable future.

Powered by a spare, ruminative prose style that recalls the best of Denis Johnson and Thom Jones, Controlled Burn is an unforgettable debut.

Contents

I. The Northeast Kingdom

  • Taciturnity
  • Outside Work Detail
  • El Rey
  • Crank
  • Ball Lightning Reported
  • Controlled Burn
  • Tigers
  • The High Iron
     

II. The Fugitive West

  • The Rooming House
  • Atomic Supernova
  • The Copper Kings
  • Underdogs
  • Vigilance

Ball Lightning Reported

Two days into a full-on ice storm, I drove the forty-five miles north and east from Burlington to Red Green's house in Newport, Vermont. All along the way, the woods were shattered. Trees splintered from the weight of the ice, scattering limbs and trunks on the frozen snow. Blue sparks arced out of severed high-tension wires, onto the icy blacktop. The temperature shifted by the minute, changing from rain to snow to ice, back to rain. My mind mirrored the storm, fierce addiction raging, beating my brain with baseball-size hailstones of chemical need. I thought about turning around, then thought about getting ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

To say that these beautifully written, deceptively simple stories are loosely connected is to miss a large part of the point....Wolven's not as romantic or sympathetic as Hemingway, but it's hard to think that Papa wouldn't appreciate his artistry and imagination.

Kirkus Reviews

A debut to treasure, a remarkably assured cycle of stories about men who'll live in your heart even though you'll be glad they don't live next door.

Author Blurb Nelson DeMille
Controlled Burn is good. Very good. Remarkable, actually. Tough, gritty, and honest -- reminiscent of Hemingway with a little bit of John Steinbeck. Scott Wolven writes about an America that few of us have ever seen--and he writes about it from first-hand experience.

Author Blurb Anthony Swofford,author of Jarhead
It has been at least a few years since a story collection gripped me from first to last. The drought has ended, and now I will read this book again. The wisdom, love, and depravity of convicts, boxers, cranksters, loggers, and drunks fill the stove of this fine book so that long after you finish the last story, Scott Wolven's savage and lovely characters and crystalline prose will burn through your heart.

Author Blurb George Pelecanos
Scott Wolven's tales are tough, unsentimental, and completely earned. This is the most exciting, authentic collection of short stories I have read in years.

Author Blurb Michele Slung editor of Stranger and I Shudder at Your Touch
Scott Wolven's stories are torn road maps leading into an adrenalin-fueled land of the lost. Ever since I first read "the Copper Kings," an early story, I've been addicted to his fierce insights and fascinated by the way a strange sweetness underpins the violent macho trappings of his beyond-the-law, hard-case men on the run.

Author Blurb Richard Ford
Wolven has turned raw, unreconciled life into startling, evocative, and very good short stories. He draws on a New England different from Updike's and even Dubus', but his fictive lives--no less than theirs--render the world newly, and full of important consequence.

Reader Reviews

Gwen

This is a man's world?
I enjoy short stories but am finding it increasingly difficult to find short stories full of strongly drawn characters. Then I read Controlled Burn. The book is full of men, almost no female characters even appear & there's not a S.N.A.G. (Sensitive ...   Read More

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