Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wells Tower, _Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned_

MUCH-BUZZED, AND deservingly so in this instance; Tower is a talented writer and one to watch. The writing is controlled and witty, the observations of human, especially male, foibles acute.

Which led me to wonder -- would it be fair to say that male writers of literary fiction born later than, let's say, 1960 more or less internalized the second-wave feminist critique of American masculinity as a kind of psychopathology?

Here, as in much else, David Foster Wallace led the way with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Either Lambert brother in Franzen's Corrections could serve as an example. The men in the fiction of Gary Lutz and Ben Marcus often seem wholly alienated from their own emotions, and unnerving as Jane Dark in Marcus's Notable American Women is, one scarcely doubts that the father needs to remain deeply buried in the back yard. On the somewhat more popular front, there's Fight Club. It's as if they all rolled up some Gilligan/Dworkin/MacKinnon in the late 70s/early 80s and deeply, deeply inhaled.

This development seems like and unlike the recent Hollywood guy-movies à la Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, The Hangover, in that those films also seem to have internalized the second-wave critique of masculinity, with the important difference that the films juggle the situations so as to do their best to make the male characters, despite their psychopathology, play out as likeable and lovable. Nothing so redemptive goes on in Wallace, Lutz, or Marcus.

Or in Tower. The point-of-view characters in "Retreat," "Down through the Valley," and "On the Show" are game enough to make an effort to get out of their self-excavated holes, but we see enough to know they too are going to stay buried in the backyard, probably a good thing for everyone.

The final story, which lends the volume its title, is unique in that all the other stories are straight realism while "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" adopts the elaborate conceit of lending a medieval Viking raider the speech of an ordinary contemporary American suburban Joe (or Jason or Jordan or Josh). An ingenious way to make the same point the other, more conventional stories make: what separates the historic forms of male pillage, rapine, and arrogance from the new? Not much.


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Malcolm said...

Well put. Interesting how feminist theory seems to have been internalized, then reflected in post-Boomer writing, but not issues of race. I'd wager that the effects of modern segregation factor more than post-feminist ideology in a contemporary writer's mind, especially a Southerner like Wells Tower.