I think I’m starting to warm up to Wells Tower the farther we read in the collection. The problem that I have with his stories is primarily the infuriating tendency of his characters to not be able to do anything. But as we read farther, it almost seems that the violence that is involved with these characters stops any action that they could or would be able to make. I was curious about Wells Tower, so I looked for articles about him or this story. In STOPSMILING.com, which is apparently a literary magazine of sorts that I had never heard of, there was an interview that among other things talked about the violence associated with this collection:
Stop Smiling: I’ve read a number of reviews in which the critic emphasizes the violence of your stories. A commenter on Slate asked why the reviewer had included your description of a blood eagle (a Viking torture ritual), since it grossed her out over breakfast. There’s a whole spectrum of violence in literature — from Chuck Palahniuk to Cormac McCarthy. Where do you fall into that?
Wells Tower: People have gotten very into that [violence]. I don’t know why that is. Maybe they’re a bunch of sickos. I was just talking to my brother on the phone the other day, and he was saying one of his tenants got drunk and ran over his wife in the driveway. The old man who talks with the gunshot victim in “Door in Your Eye” — that actually happened to me. I had this neighbor who, when she moved in, had this pack of photographs she’d taken of this guy who’d been shot on the street. It was such a bizarre episode that it went straight into the fiction. These things happen all the time. You don’t have to look too far to find horror. I think it’d be a lot more contrived to go in the opposite direction, to say that life is easy and sweet.
We’re members of a very difficult species. It’s an awful, awful thing to know that you’re going to die someday, and there’s an imperative to do something that matters to you. I don’t know if the stories are darker than life itself — I would probably say not.
I think this of all things gave me more insight into Tower than his stories do because it makes me clearly consider the violence that he portrays in his work and how not so far off he truly is from the world. He is far grittier than Ford or Johnson but perhaps that is because Tower takes away a lot of the redemption that the other two authors seem to have. There doesn’t seem to be an ‘out’ for these people as much as I want there to be one, and so, perhaps, this is what gives his stories such an illicit quality that make them seem so secretive whenever you read them.
To read the rest of the interview here.