Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wells Tower: What The Story Prize Judges Had to Say

When the three judges for The Story Prize make their choices, they provide citations for the book or books they like best. This year's judges were author A.M. Homes, critic and blogger Carolyn Kellogg, and librarian Bill Kelly. Here's what one of our judges had to say about Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned:
This collection represents a significant achievement in the short story form. Wells Tower brings a distinctive, original voice whose power is at once reminiscent of the great practitioners of the short story (Cheever and O'Connor come to mind) while being uniquely his own. His fine balance of visceral tension, absurd and quirky humor, and richly drawn characters serves to showcase his immense talent. The plot is almost always secondary in these stories. Rather, the reader is drawn in because of the raw, essential energy created by the interaction between (and often within) characters as though by a gravitational force. Tower is able to draw characters with a deft, almost sleight-of, hand. He takes the old writer's edict "show, don't tell" one step further—his keen eye for observational detail direct the reader's attention, however briefly, to the minutiae in the background of the scene he has painted. Once the perspective has returned to the foreground, the characters then appear three-dimensional, more nuanced and fully rendered. This is the kind of writing that rewards close reading and rereading. As with all forms of magic, we are compelled to pull open the curtain in order to see how the illusion is created.

Wells Tower is a deliberate, knowing author, completely in control of his stories. One notes the careful choice of language, each word selected for its specificity and efficiency. One senses that, like Chekhov's, a Tower story is no more and no less than it could otherwise be. These stories are a pleasure to read because they elicit reader participation—the dialogue is spot-on yet suggestive of all things left unsaid, the humor is wry with a sly, sophisticated wink and the subtle building of tension elicits a sensation similar to that of a spring about to be sprung. There is a physicality to these stories that leaves a mark on the reader. One feels so completely engaged, so immersed in the story that it is tempting to suggest that our own energy has somehow been tapped in order to bring the story to life.

photo © Eric Richards