Do the same rules apply to ordering the short stories in a collection as apply to ordering tracks on a rock album? It seems that many collections lead with the strongest story first; I wonder if this is because people will read the first story before flicking through the rest. Is there an expectation that the best story will be in pride of place in the book and it wouldn’t make sense for a publisher to put it anywhere else? Also, the last story in any collection seems important as well, I’ve noticed in two collections that I’ve read recently, that the last story also gives its name to the book.
I’ve been reading Wells Tower’s collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Wells Tower is on the New Yorkers forty writers under forty – quite an influence list. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is Towers first collection of short stories, though, like many young writers, he’s been winning short story competitions for years.
The stories in Wells Tower’s book I would figure clock in at around the 7000 – 10000 word mark each. Looking in the publication detail, I discovered that nearly every story in the collection had been previously published in a journals such as The Paris Review, Harpers Magazine and McSweeney’s. There was also a story that had appeared in the New Yorker, though it was about half the length of the others.
The story On the Show, which appeared originally in Harpers Magazine I found particularly interesting. Unlike many stories told from a single viewpoint, the story bounces around numerous characters, who each give their perspective of life as carnies. But when everything is weighed up however, my favourite was The Brown Coast, which was originally featured in The Paris Review.
In the story, a man is living in his uncle’s dilapetated cottage on the coast after his marriage has fallen apart. In between repairing the cottage, he collects interesting sea creatures that become trapped in the local rock pools and puts them in a long glass tank he has in the living room. He befriends a veterinarian and his girlfriend who are holidaying in the neighbourhood and keeps calling his wife hoping for a reconciliation that never comes. The story ends on an image, where the veterinarian’s girlfriend brings around a gift of a sea slug she has found to put in the main character’s glass tank. He puts the sea slug in with the other animals, but wakes the next day to discover that the sea slug has emitted a poison that has killed all the other sea life in the tank. The veterinarian explains to him that it was a sea cucumber and was “as poisonous as hell.” Not wanting to kill the creature though, the main character takes it down to the water and throws it back in the sea.
It is lovely looking at some longer form stories. It seems having the extra room, lets the author explore more themes. I really enjoyed reading the collection, and found myself carrying it all around Melbourne with me until I got it finished.