Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”

Up until now, everything that we have read in Tower’s short story collection has been based in fairly modern times.  However, the last story in the book takes place in the past, during the time of Vikings.  Altogether witty and amusing, the story takes us through the lives of two friends — one who has lost his wife and his land legs and one whose wife is still living and wants him to stay with her instead of gallivanting off on a raid — and how they seem to find what they want during the raid and burning of the village that they had previously plundered not too long ago.

At first, I was really wary about this story, since Tower hadn’t written anything like it earlier in the book.  I wasn’t sure where he could take us with the Viking characters that we hadn’t been taken before by other writers.  The story, the writing, and the plot line, though, were nothing that I expected them to be.  Tower didn’t write the story as though the Vikings were really stupid or as if they had no feelings for others whatsoever and only liked fighting and the kill.  Instead, they had personalities, families, and backgrounds. They were more than just characters on a page; they seemed to have lives that we didn’t know.

I may be biased by saying that this was my favorite story of Tower’s because my high school mascot was the Viking, but it’s more than just that connection to my life. Tower really seemed to create something with this story.  Sure, there were the blood-lusty men, but there were also men who were just there because they wanted to be sure that they would be invited next time, so that they could help provide for their family.

Some of my favorite lines come from the end of the book.  I think they are my favorite because they hold so much — so much emotion and character, so much of what we can identify with.  The structure of the lines makes them almost lyric, in ways that the rest of the story isn’t.  It’s kind of like they just flow smoothly, as if a lot of work was put into them because they hold so much. So much is at stake, but so much can also be gained.  For example, on page 238 the narrator declares of the character Gnut, “He’d gotten what he wanted, but he didn’t seem too happy about it, just worried all the time.”  The narrator is speaking about Gnut getting a new wife.  Gnut seems to be happy, but at the same time he worries more than ever about what could happen to his woman.  He already lost one wife, and he doesn’t want to lose another.

Another example is on page 237: “Gnut didn’t hardly say a word to anybody, just held Mary close to him, trying to keep her soothed and safe from all of us, his friends.  He wouldn’t look me in the face, stricken as he was by the awful fear that comes with getting hold of something you can’t afford to lose.”

These are the types of sentences that I want to copy in my own writing.  I want some of my sentences to seem to carry so much weight like Tower’s.  This story was by far my favorite of his, and I think that part of it is because it reads like he spent time on it, like he had fun writing it, like he cared about grammar and syntax.  It was a clean story, also something I would like to really be diligent enough to be able to emulate.

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One Response to Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”

  1. John Gregory Brown says:

    Thanks so much for this discussion, Heather.

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