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by Wells Tower

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-374-29219-5
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A debut story collection from Pushcart Prize winner Tower.

Tower’s stories could last 15 rounds with Donald Ray Pollock’s story collection Knockemstiff (2008), after which both volumes would likely scrape themselves off the mat, bloody and raw, and go split a bottle of rotgut whiskey. Most of these stories have first-person narrators, many of them middle-aged men, who turn to alcohol to numb the pain of familial discord or divorce. Not that all of these narratives are variations on a single theme. Sibling rivalry seethes through “Retreat,” which begins: “Five is about the number of strong drinks it takes to make me want to call my brother on the phone.” A father’s death sends a good man spiraling into a living hell in the opening story, “The Brown Coast.” In “Leopard,” the second-person narration invites the reader to enter the consciousness of an 11-year-old boy, his innocence undermined by masturbation, murder and a tense relationship with his stepfather. “On the Show” reinforces everything scary associated with traveling carnivals—the carnies featured include a heroin addict, a child molester and a young man on the run from a fight with his stepfather. After many stories set in the indeterminate present, the title story, which closes the collection, concerns marauding Vikings, with the final paragraph offering the closest thing to an affirmation you’ll find in these pages.

The title barely hints at the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners power of the stories.