Brooding, edgy, and sometimes violent, Controlled Burn's loosely linked stories are each in some way a distillation of hard time -- spent either in prison, the backwoods of Vermont, or the badlands of the American West. Peopled by boxers, drunks, truck drivers, murderers, bounty hunters, drifters traveling under assumed names, and men whose luck ran out a thousand miles ago, these stories feel hard-won from life, and if they are moody and stark, so too are they filled with human longing.
Controlled Burn is divided into two sections: "The Northeast Kingdom" and "The Fugitive West." In each, Scott Wolven reveals a broken world where there is no bottom left to hit. In the haunting "Outside Work Detail," convicts stoically dig graves for their fellow prisoners yet reserve their deepest grief for the senseless death of a deer. "Crank" introduces Red Green, a maniacally brilliant addict who brews his own crystal meth in a backwoods lab, and whose high-energy antics inspire both cautious admiration and mortal fear in his business associates. In "Ball Lightning Reported," Red Green's ultimate fate is revealed. In "Atomic Supernova," a revenge-obsessed sheriff deputizes a known cop-killer to help him hunt down a counterfeiter and drug lord. The unexpectedly tender and heartbreaking "The Copper Kings" concerns a father facing the dark truth behind his son's disappearance. And in "Vigilance," a hunted man struggles to escape his past, always yearning for an honorable yet perhaps unreachable future.
Powered by a spare, ruminative prose style that recalls the best of Denis Johnson and Thom Jones, Controlled Burn is an unforgettable debut.
Scott Wolven lives in upstate New York. His work has been selected three years in a row for The Best American Mystery Stories (2002, 2003, and 2004).
"Wolven has turned raw, unreconciled life into startling, evocative, and very good short stories. He draws on a New England different from Updike's and even Dubus', but his fictive lives -- no less than theirs -- render the world newly, and full of important consequence."
-- Richard Ford
"Scott Wolven's stories are torn road maps leading into an adrenalin-fueled land of the lost. Ever since I first read 'The Copper Kings,' an early story, I've been addicted to his fierce insights and fascinated by the way a strange sweetness underpins the violent macho trappings of his beyond-the-law, hard-case men on the run."
-- Michele Slung, editor of Stranger and I Shudder at Your Touch
"Controlled Burn is good. Very good. Remarkable, actually. Tough, gritty, and honest--reminiscent of Hemingway with a little bit of John Steinbeck. Scott Wolven writes about an America that few of us have ever seen--and he writes about it from first-hand experience."
-- Nelson DeMille
"It has been at least a few years since a story collection gripped me from first to last. The drought has ended, and now I will read this book again. The wisdom, love, and depravity of convicts, boxers, cranksters, loggers, and drunks fill the stove of this fine book so that long after you finish the last story, Scott Wolven's savage and lovely characters and crystalline prose will burn through your heart."
-- Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead
"Scott Wolven's tales are tough, unsentimental, and completely earned. This is the most exciting, authentic collection of short stories I have read in years."
"Dazzling and disturbing...white-hot prose...extraordinary. A debut to treasure, a remarkably assured cycle of stories."