sunset still smoldering behind the molars of the Appalachian range


Anyone who’s taken even a lazy stroll through the well-worn territory of destructive fictional masculinity—Hemingway, Carver, Faulkner, Roth, Cheever, Yates, Bolaño, et al.—will recognize the basic flora and fauna of Wells Tower’s stories: the hunting trips, the fistfights, the hard drinking, the adultery. He is, like his great forebears, a connoisseur of violence. His debut collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, is (as its apocalyptic title suggests) an astonishingly well-stocked smorgasbord of cruelty, coercion, insult, and predation. It opens with a man waking to a feeling of dread, a cracker shard “lodged deep into his buttock crack, like a flint arrowhead,” and things only get more sinister from there. A cat eats a baby pigeon, slowly. A loathsome little sea cucumber (“it looked like the turd of someone who’d been eating rubies”) poisons, overnight, an entire tank of exotic fish. Brothers nurture mutual addictions to lifelong sadomasochistic rivalries (as one puts it: “I carry a little imp inside me whose ambrosia is my brother’s wrath”). A wife wakes up, screaming, to recurrent visions of a man standing over her. An old father’s brain is pillaged by dementia. The violences compound, quickly and complexly: Peacekeepers escalate the fights they’re trying to stop; a son, slapped by his father, runs to the bathroom and punches himself “several times to ensure a lasting bruise.” Various creatures are elaborately gutted: a moose (“Blood ran from the meat and down my shirt with hideous, vital warmth”), several catfish, and a medieval priest named Naddod.

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