Book Review: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

18 05 2009

Everything Ravaged, Everything BurnedThis book has been getting a lot of attention from the New York Times and I see why. This is a stunning debut collection of stories from author Wells Tower.  Everyone in this collection is down. Down on their luck, down in terms of money, and down in terms of mood. Yet all of these characters have compelling stories and adventures that don’t seem to get them anywhere while defining who they are.

From the mental aquarium in The Brown Coast, to the tension of riding in the car with an ex’s new lover in Down Through the Valley, to viking raiding parties in the title story Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned you watch lives slowly burn themselves toward the end of their fuse.  Sometimes they pop, other times they fizzle.  

The writing in this collection feels effortless.  It’s clean anf each story takes on it’s own voice. To be honest, this is one of the best collection of short stories I’ve read in years.





Beanball by Ron Carlson

12 10 2008

Last night I read Beanball by Ron Carlson. It was issue number 99/100 of One Story Magazine. The story struck me in several ways. It was beautifully written and full of characters with remorse about their pasts and guarded hope for the future. It was about the eternal hope that goes along with baseball. It was also about human greed.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I felt the story was going along fine until it got about 75% through. It seemed that the plot took a fantastical direction that wasn’t needed. A simple, straight forward ending would have been stronger, truer to the characters and world created in this story. I seem to remember from workshops in college that being simple and straight forward is the way to go. I just felt this story fell flat in it’s complicated and crisscrossing plot. In the end it was all to neat and tidy.





Deep-Holes by Alice Munroe

18 09 2008

So I read an interesting story today, Deep-Holes by Alice Munroe.  It’s a story about family and an event that changes their lives.  While it was very well written and it started with some promise, the story ultimately fell apart for me.  I’m not sure why this mother and son are acting the way they do by the end of the story.  I don’t understand their lives’ journeys and how they end up where they did.  

It’s worth a read and I’d appreciate any other thoughts on it.  The story has stayed with me, but I’m not 100% sure why.





Two Brilliant Stories

20 08 2008

I’ve read two fantastically brilliant short stories recently and wanted to share them with the world.  They are, however, about as different from each other as two stories could possibly be.  The first one is titled English Cousin and is by Patrick Sommerville.  The story focuses on a teenage boy who has his English cousin thrust upon him.  The uneasy relationship between the two and the main character’s inability to get out of his rut drive this story along.  It was as if the entire world ignored what he had to say every second of everyday – and he decides to take it out on his somewhat smarmy cousin.

It’s part of his debut collection of stories Trouble. So far the entire collection has been great. It’s funny and quirky, but the collection uncovers some real truths about the human condition and how ridiculous we are as animals. How our worries and insecurities make us crazy like a dog that won’t stop scratching itself.

The other story, I found in the May 5th New Yorker.  It’s by Annie Proulx and titled Them Old Cowboy Songs. Surprisingly it has not been released online. This means you’ll have to read the May 5th issue OR other people’s thoughts on the story. The other choice is to wait for her new collection to come out in September. This story was powerful and again showed how our choices and weird decisions can leave a permanent mark on our lives.

It involves a young couple who buy some land in Wyoming in the 1800s and the struggles they’ve escaped and still face in trying to scratch out a living and a family.

Both of these stories come at the human condition from different perspectives but still manage to point out the absurdity of everyday life.





The Lie

29 07 2008

While catching up on my New Yorkers, I read T. Coraghessan Boyle’s story The Lie. On the surface it feels like a story about a lazy guy that doesn’t want to go to work in the morning. But then we discover his lie and the story becomes fun and uncomfortable at the same time. This is one of those rare works of short fiction that take you to another place, mess with your head, and then stick with you for a few days. It’s worth the time to read.





Richard Ford: Leaving for Kenosha

1 07 2008

In my never-ending quest to catch up on my backlog of New Yorker magazines, I’m finding that the fiction is standing out. Today on my flight I read a Richard Ford story: Leaving For Kenosha. I’ve tried to read Richard Ford in the past with mixed results. It’s surprised me because I like a number of his contemporaries and friends with similar tastes have liked him. This story, however, was great.

It’s the story of a father and his young daughter, strained by a divorce he figures is somehow his fault. He drives his daughter to the dentist and then to visit a school friend who is moving from New Orleans to Wisconsin because her father has been transferred. At first I wondered if the backdrop of New Orleans was slightly forced, but then I realized it fits in well with the main character’s life. What was once there is gone and the rebuilding is slow and confusing. His marriage, his relationship with his daughter, where he wanted to be at this point in his life all seem to be beyond his control.

The opening line hit me and it just kept on going for me.  Despite upheaval, life goes on. 

It was the anniversary of the disaster.  Walter Hobbes was on his way uptown to pick up his daughter, Louise, at Trinity.  She had the dentist at four.





Quiet Week

22 06 2008

Once I finished the The Corrections it’s been a pretty quiet week. I tried to plow through a bit of my pile of old New Yorkers and basically picked over articles and stories. Nothing too exciting. So here goes nothing:

In short-fiction, I did read a few things. Like I said, I’m chipping away at a pile of New Yorkers and a few One-Story issues. I also started The Boat by Nam Le (so far it’s fantastic).

In not-so-short fiction, Shannon tells you to go read The Hobbit.

In music, Guns ‘N Roses’ long awaited album was leaked for like 13 minutes this week on the interwebs. I write a little about it over here.

  • Also, I keep meaning to link over to Plain or Pan? a really great music website from a Scot with a huge collection of stuff.

In television, the AVClub interviews Billy West of Futurama and Ren & Stimpy fame. I, however, was introduced to him via the Howard Stern show where he did such imitations as Marge Schott and The Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley.

In links, the following sub-finds…

  • I found Wordspy a site that introduces you to newly coined phrases.
  • In art, I found a site this week that gives you cheap options for art. It’s called 20×200 and gives you the option of buying a $20, $200, or $2,000 version of the same piece. My problem is that I think some of the pictures from my vacation are better and I can’t figure out how to sell them here!
  • Not so much art as photography, I did try a very cool site affiliated with Flickr this week. It’s called MOO and enables you to make postcards, notecards, mini-cards, etc. from your own pics stored on Flickr. I’ll let you know what I think when I get the first pics back.

I’m behind on comics and don’t have anything to report this week. Hopefully I’ll attack the pile this week and have something to report back on.  Hope all are having a good summer.