Although I’m not super outdoorsy, I recently picked up a copy of Outside Magazine while at the gym. I did it because I had forgotten my own reading material, but I also found the irony of reading such a magazine while moving statically indoors amusing. And while I couldn’t quite relate to narratives of daring, dangerous travels through Argentina or over precipitous mountains in far-off regions, I came upon a feature by Wells Tower, author of newly released book of short stories Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
The piece is entitled “The Tuber” and involves the writer “having constructed the greatest flotation device mankind has ever known.” (It’s an inner tube.) With this tube, “Wells Tower embarks on an ill-conceived, possibly insane crossing of alligator-infested North Florida via a string of seriously imperiled and incredibly beautiful rivers.” To make matters better, Tower borrows his concept from John Cheever’s 1964 short story “The Swimmer” in which Neddy Merrill decides to swim the eight miles home through the “suburban river” of backyard pools in Westchester County:
“His life was not confining,” writes Cheever, “and the delight he took in this observation could not be explained by its suggestion of escape. He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure. The day was beautiful and it seemed to him that a long swim might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.” (via Outside)
Tower’s plot is perhaps more ambitious the the one concocted by Cheever. But while Neddy Merrill’s voyage might not make it into Outside, floating through alligator-infested waters on an inner tube with a sarcastic guide referred to as “Miss Bennett,” Tower’s escapade does undoubtedly lack the subtlety and erudition of his narrative muse.
Considering, though, that Tower’s is known to have two separate writing desks in his office (one is equipped with a typewriter for fiction writing, the other with a laptop and internet connection for nonfiction), it’s easy to see that the writer is prone to at least a little bit of ostentation. But, after all, who isn’t? At least there are no zombies involved.