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A Hideous, Vital Warmth

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Tower seems to enjoy undercutting this kind of romanticized barbarity. In a clever reversal, he has his Vikings speak in the same lower-middle-class Americanisms as the rest of his characters. His narrator is Harald, a reluctant raider who would have preferred to stay home with his wife, working his land, and who (at least until the end) refuses to participate in any pillaging. Midway through the attack, a farmer named Bruce comes out to shoot the breeze with Harald and the other nice Vikings:

“So what are you doing, any looting?”
“Why? You got anything to loot?”
“Me? Oh, no. Got a decent cookstove, but I can’t see you toting that back on the ship.”
“Don’t suppose you’ve got a coin hoard or anything buried out back.” “Jeezum crow, I wish I did have. Coin hoard, I’d really turn things around for myself.”

Although Harald and his friends never pillage outright, they do end up committing a more ambiguous act of violence, and the book finishes as it began—with a man waking up haunted by a feeling of doom: “You wish you hated those people, your wife and children, because you know the things the world will do to them, because you have done some of those things yourself. It’s crazy-making, yet you cling to them with everything and close your eyes against the rest of it. But still you wake up late at night and lie there listening for the creak and splash of oars, the clank of steel, the sounds of men rowing toward your home.”

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
By Wells Tower.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $24.


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