Imagine a hot dog—no bun, no condiments, fresh off the grill or straight out of the boiling pot or microwave (however you prefer to prepare your hot dogs). Now, take a long piece of twine and wrap it around the center of the dog. Pull the string tight so that it compresses the dog down in that one spot to make a sort of hourglass-shaped dog. Cut the dog in half and keep the part with the twine. Now dress the dog in the finest fucking condiments on the planet, the best artisanal shit you can find, stuff that makes your tongue feel like Dr. Bowman at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now eat that hot dog—with the twine still attached.
To me, the above is a perfect metaphor for what it’s like reading any one of the stories in Wells Tower’s short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. It’s the other book I got for my birthday, and, bird, I am so fucking done with fiction like this. I complain to Amanda how much I hate fiction that’s (stereotypically) about a lady sitting in a coffee shop in December, watching the steam rise out of her cup, and ruminating about her failed relationships. Well, this collection of stories is a more masculine version of that.
Which is a real staggering shame because this collection has some pretty great stuff smeared throughout. For example, from the first story, “The Brown Coast“, here’s a quick snippet involving a drunk veterinarian and the story’s protagonist.
Derrick came back from the kitchen, talking into a cordless phone, his voice loud with expertise. “Say what? Did you take a look? Can you see the head? Uh-huh. Red or whitish? Yeah, that’s natural. Sounds like she’s getting ready to domino. I’ll be over.”
Derrick came back into the living room. “Gotta take a ride over the bridge,” he said. “Need to go pull something out of a horse’s pussy.”
“What kind of thing?” Bob asked.
“A baby horse, I hope.”
Do you see that? Man, that’s just in the first story in the book. The whole book is full of stuff like this. It’s great! But then…man, the fucking endings. No catharsis. No epiphany. The story just cuts off right in the middle. On shit that doesn’t have anything to do with the characters we’ve been reading about in a way that’s all “Watch out man! This ending is deep and profound and about all the mysteries of life that we’ll never know about!” Instead of bringing some sort—any sort—of conclusion, the first story, “The Brown Coast,” ends with Derrick and Bob (and Claire) watching a super young and pretty couple whom we’ve never seen the entire story sail in and out of frame. And that’s it. Fuck that. Get the fuck out of here with that bullshit. Stop it with these intellectually profound ad hominem endings like you know some shit about life that we don’t when the truth is you just couldn’t figure out how to write yourself out of the glorious mess you created.
For example, the second story, “Retreat.” With ten pages left to read, I told Amanda, “If one of these brothers doesn’t stab the other on the top of this fucking mountain, I’m going to be pissed.” And when the story ends with one of the jamokes blithely popping a piece of tainted moose steak in his mouth (trust me, that’s not a fucking spoiler because it’s got nothing to do with the rest of the story), I wanted to fucking punt the book. Which is a real shame because there was a great exchange between the two main characters where I turned to Amanda and also said, “This dialogue was written by a man who knows what it’s like to have an asshole brother, and it’s awesome.”
Anyway, this book makes me feel like I’d been asking a girl to the prom for a month now with her replying, “Maybe! Let me think about it.” And then the day before the prom, all the milk in the fridge goes bad, but I use it in my cereal anyway because fuck it.