Photo by Zach Forstrom. Collections of short stories, such as "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" by Wells Towers, provide an ideal solution for students who find they don't have enough time to devote to reading an entire novel for pleasure, but still hope to engage in some relaxing reading during their spare time.

With many textbook and Moodle assignments throughout the week, Concordia students often complain about not having ample time for leisure reading. During the semester it is nearly impossible to read something non-class related. Over the weekend some are able to start reading a novel, but it’s hard to complete by Sunday night, when packed schedules resume.

For students that still have an urge to read fiction, the short story is an excellent option. Pick it up when you have time—in between classes, before bed, over the weekend—and be transported to a different world and time in about 30 pages.

A perfect collection to start with is Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.”  Filled with dark humor, the stories echo those of Flannery O’Conner, with abrupt dramatic endings. All of the stories in the collection, published in 2008, have been previously published in literary magazines across the country, but according to Tower, they have been extensively revised—with changed points of view and endings—for this collection.

Tower’s stories are not happy or cheery. But they share with us the human experience—from boring mornings at home to tensions between parents. This collection, in short, is about characters that are down and out of luck, at their very worst. Through their bad experiences readers are able to—for at least a few pages—appreciate the discontent in their lives and hope for a better, happy ending. But that never happens. People mistreat each other.  They fight. They remarry. To feel their pain and anguish in such great ways is a gift that Tower provides in this collection. And while that may not sound enjoyable to read, there’s something to appreciate about his characters and their ways of reacting to difficult situations.

In “Leopard,” the fifth story in the collection, Tower brilliantly shows the reader his discontent for his stepfather:

“You set off across the yard in bare feet. The earth under your toes is plush with mole tunnels,” he writes. “It is a hot autumn day. The clarity of sky makes the trees look like television props with a blue screen behind them. You’ve already lost your summer calluses, and the driveway gravel is sharp, causing you to walk with a jouncing, high-elbowed gait like a bird trying to take flight.  You blame your stepfather for the unpleasantness of gravel, and every few feet you pick up a handful and fling it into the woods, hoping that those handfuls will cost a lot of money to replace.”

That style and imagery is what makes this collection unique. Wells Tower has indeed accomplished something great, and if you have the time, this is the collection to read.

Matt Hansen

Matt Hansen, a fourth-year student, writes The People's Republic of Matt, a politics column in Opinions. He double majors in political science and sociology at Concordia. On Twitter: @MattHansen

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