Granta £10.99

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, By Wells Tower

A collection full of the carnivalesque and lurid

Here they are: the brawling brothers, mean step-fathers and usurping uncles that make up the menfolk of America today. We XYs don't come out of Wells Tower's short stories too well. We're unhappy or, worse still, total strangers to happiness. Add a cast of murderous clowns, predatory paedophiles and bloodthirsty Vikings, and we're lucky to make it out alive.

The title of his first short story collection tells you lots, but not all, of what you need to know about the world of Wells Tower. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is disturbing and dramatic. Of the nine stories, all bar one – the title story – are set in contemporary America. His is a sadly familiar world of financial crisis, failing families and Christians anxious about Harry Potter. But, like David Foster Wallace, Tower taps into what lies beneath, often comically. There are dazzling points of light and compassion in the darkness.

In "Brown Coast", a bereaved son is sent by his greedy uncle to an island to exorcise his sadness by renovating a guesthouse. It's no paradise. "The land here met water in a steeply sloping apron of mud that sang with mosquitoes and smelled terribly of fart gas," says Bob. Work, as it is for most men, is just "picking shit up and putting shit down." Hope comes from the sea in the form of fabulous fish that Bob admires in an aquarium. They, like him, are "strays and accidentals, stuff that don't belong here". Then one fish kills the others. His uncle steals his wife. Bob is marooned.

Futility floods these tales. In "Retreat" a music therapist is sick of banging tambourines with the disabled. "I feel like I am going at life like a bumblebee trying to fuck a ball bearing. Pointless." Bitter or not, we're grateful for such laughs. In "Wild America", a girl, one of the few in this book, is crushed that her cousin is dancing away from their small town to ballet school. She feels bound for a "life of poverty and disgrace". She's so busy being angry that she almost allows herself to be abducted by one of the tattooed strangers cruising these pages. "Fight to the death before you let somebody put you in his car," one father warns his son in "Executors of Important Energies". "Either way, you're probably dead, and believe me, it's better to check out before they get creative on you."

Tower is most creative on us in "On the Show". Only one thing can happen to a pretty young boy at the fairground in this dark morality tale. Hiding from a bully, he is found by a monster worse than anything in the Haunted House. Predictable enough, but the real horror is his father's disbelief: "He believes Henry is a dishonest boy, that his beauty has made him as vindictive and conniving as a movie star ... He would suspect the boy of lying now, of deliberately trying to ruin his date, but that Henry is missing his underwear and one of his shoes."

Tower left a steady journalism job to join a travelling show. Leaving and the luridly carnivalesque are recurring themes. He revels in describing a baby pigeon as a "half-cooked eraser with dreams of someday becoming a prostitute". It is sometimes too much, almost Grand Guignol. He truly shocks when returning to his restrained reporting style as he does in "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned". Vikings visit Lindisfarne on a pillaging minibreak in this final tale (told in the vernacular, somewhat unconvincingly). By the end of this book, you may well be as jaded as the Viking warriors who only stop killing for lunch.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before