Wednesday, January 13, 2010

everything ravaged, everything burned

It's been a while since I read anything that, when finished, made me put down the book and immediately pick it up again. Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, which has garnered quite the load of end-of-the-year, best-of lauds, did that.

Tower is a member of the McSweeney's crowd, a group of young-ish writers that my more serious and classically trained friends discount as gimmicky hucksters stuck on themselves and their ability to be and produce all that is postmodern. Sometimes, I agree. But Tower's stories are authentic - they gather up the current cultural atmosphere of cynicism and disarray, effortlessly throw it into easily recognizable dialogue cadences of the people you know, and somehow manage to crack open the door toward hard-won hope just enough to be believable.

The stories are not heart-warming. We're talking about divorce, abusive parents, fathers stricken with alzheimers, freshly slaughtered moose meat rotting in the hot sun, and even pillaging vikings - whose exploits are described in great and gory detail. The stories aren't heart-warming, but they are honest.

Tower's writing reminds me immediately of my friend Logan, a hard working and hard drinking guy who listens to screaming metal music while cooking a four course gourmet meal or photographing a rare and delicate species of plant. It reminds me of my friend Beth, who has spent the last few years sitting with dying children and their families and was still able to declare to me, emphatically, "I just love the world, and I like being in it!" And it reminds me of Steve Almond and his confession of a love for Barry Hannah:
Those were the nights I sought out Airships. I'd sit there and read a sentence like "I'm going to die from love" and start crying. And what's strange is that it felt so good to cry, there was a kind of joy in it, because all feeling is joy, because the capacity to feel wasn't going to mess me up forever, and that someday, if I kept at it...if I kept myself open to the lashings of the world, the true, brutal hurt of the place, I might start to get somewhere.
That passage is in a book my friend Russell gave to me as a Christmas present a couple of years ago, and Almond signed it: "Your job is to love hard."

Tower's blood and guts and moose meat and viking stories all end this way, too:
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. It's crazy-making, yet you cling to them with everything and close your eyes against the rest of it. But still you wake up late at night and lie there listening for the creak and splash of oars, the clank of steel, the sounds of men rowing toward your home.
In the end, I suppose, these are all stories - from Tower or Almond or Russell or Beth or Logan - these are all stories of incarnation. We are here, each of us and each of us together, made up of blood and guts and hurt and death and primal viking urges and even, probably, deep down, screaming metal music. Why not own up to it?

1 comment:

bekah said...

catching up on my back episodes of 'this american life' and heard about this book there, too (as I'm sure you know) :)