Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Story Hour: Wells Tower

After taking a week off to reload, "Saturday Story Hour" is back. With a BANG.

This week, we're focusing on an author who is entirely new to Fosco! Just a few weeks ago, Fosco semi-randomly clicked on a story on the NY Times front page about a short story collection by an author named Wells Tower. The name of the collection is Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, which is a pretty catchy title. Fosco decided to buy the book (from his local independent bookstore--thus paying almost $10 too much), after reading these paragraphs in the Times piece:

Wells Tower’s book of short stories, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” has attracted a great number of vivid descriptions from admiring critics in the few weeks since it came out, and “strange” is perhaps the most commonly employed.

Also: “lurid”; “crammed with more pathos than a 400-page potboiler”; “bittersweet,” “beautiful” and “ardently conflicted” (in the same review); and “sad-funny-disturbing” (all in the same hyphenated clause). The last came from Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, who wrote that the book “decisively establishes” Mr. Tower “as a writer of uncommon talent” and drew comparisons to Sam Shepard’s social radar, Frederic Barthelme’s ear and David Foster Wallace’s eye.
To me, those paragraphs pretty much sold it.

When Fosco got the book home and cracked it, he was surprised to discover that one of the stories had originally appeared in The New Yorker last November. Apparently, that one slipped past me. The story is called "Leopard" and I'm glad that I got this second chance to read it, because it's great.

The story is written in the second person--which is somewhat unusual and, in the hands of some writers, very show-off-y. However, in this case, I found it very easy to slip into. By the third or fourth paragraph, the oddness of second person address had entirely disappeared. At that point, I was comfortably living inside the head of Towers's teenage protagonist.

The story is also, in places, extremely funny--and poignant at the same time (just like your own teen years, right?). Consider this section that describes a small fungus spot that has appeared on your upper lip (wasn't Junior High absolute torture?):
A tiny hamburger is what the fungus resembles, cracked and brown and perfectly centered in the little fluted area between your septum and upper lip. Yesterday, in the cafeteria, Josh Mohorn pointed out the similarity before a table of your friends. A painful thing, considering how much you would like to be Josh Mohorn. He turned to you and said, “Hey, Yancy, do me a favor.”

“What’s up?” you said, excited by the rare pleasure of Josh’s attention.

“Could you take that seat down there?” he said, gesturing toward the far end of the table. “I can’t eat my lunch with your fucking burger in my face.”

Even you had to admire the succinct poetry of the line, which launched an instant craze of everyone jeering and calling you Burger King, or Patty, or All Beef, the name that stuck for the rest of the day and that will surely greet you this morning at school. You are eleven years old, the age that our essences begin revealing themselves, irremediably, to us and to the world. Just as Josh Mohorn is irremediably a soccer ace and a clothes ace, with feathered hair and white bucks, you are irremediably a fungus man.
I don't know about you, but for me that passage pretty much sums up my life during the years 1985-1989.

Sadly, it turns out that you live with your loathed stepfather. By the end of the story, you'll be silently praying for him to be devoured by a renegade leopard. How does the story go from your fungus to the leopard? That's what makes it so amazing--the strange chain of contingency that seems so perfectly normal for a day in the life of a misfit eleven-year-old.

You can read "Leopard" here.

If you would like to purchase Towers's collection from Amazon (thus saving almost $10), you can do so by following this link:


Jill said...

Great story. This was my favorite part..."You mentioned the vandalism to your stepfather, and on a Sunday morning, when the boy and his family were at church, the two of you hiked through the woods and destroyed the expensive tree house on the boy’s parents’ property. Your stepfather tore off the roof tin and smashed the ladder with a crowbar. You broke the glass windows with stones, and you ached with the power of it—the two of you together in the same wild, righteous tribe."

That and hoping that the leopard would snatch the stepfather.

Anonymous said...

Her comment included the word "snatch"...

The BeeMaster

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John Williams
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