11 Comments

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  1. Justin
    Justin December 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm . Reply

    I’ll admit I’ve never been able to finish this book, despite being a huge fan of his other ones while I was in college. I loved him without probably getting him and should probably go back and reacquaint myself with his work.

    So many books, so little time…

  2. Justin
    Justin December 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm . Reply

    I really liked “The Rifles” from his Seven Dreams series, also “The Ice Shirt”. I liked The Rainbow Stories too. I guess it depends if you want another novel or not. “An Afghanistan Picture Show” is pretty fascinating too.

  3. Daniel
    Daniel December 16, 2013 at 5:45 am . Reply

    gordsellar:

    Thanks for the wonderfully insightful post about “You Bright and Risen Angels.” I just started it today, and am 35 pages in; your analysis gives me an irresistible incentive to push on.

    This is not my first experience with Mr. Vollmann. Back in 2007, I read “Europe Central,” which I consider to be a masterpiece. It is moving (and it is Vollmann’s sincerity and emotional sensitivity that I think differentiates him from cold post-post modernists like Pynchon, and makes him more comparable to David Wallace), historically grounded, and beautifully written. And it is also quite “accessible” in the conventional sense, but without sacrificing the integrity of the Vollmanian method. It covers a broad swath of history in a series of superficially unrelated episodes, which are united by leitmotifs.

    A couple of years back, I read “The Rainbow Stories,” which is a spectacular demonstration of Vollmann’s range, both as to subject matter and genre.

    Daniel

  4. fionnchu
    fionnchu March 9, 2014 at 8:23 am . Reply

    Thanks for this, Gord, and the comments. The nods to Flann O’Brien are astute, and the force that Vollmann exacts from his presence from us as readers is an aspect I have not seen addressed before. I have been working my slow way through some Vollmann lately, after having read “Europe” a while back after it appeared and lately, “Imperial” and the past winter four of the “Seven Dreams” to date. I’m trying to work some of this into not only reviews (up at Amazon US and soon at my bookish blog as they will connect) but some longer essays, the first of which appeared last year at http://www.popmatters.com/column/176678-revisiting-william-t.-vollmanns-imperial/

    Having procured a copy finally of “Rising Up” after reading the abridgement, I too face yet another full-on Vollmann epic, exponentially so. I find him, as a near-exact contemporary whom I’ve long heard vaguely of but had not read until the mid-2000s, an engaging if sometimes undisciplined (I realize he insists that his works are as he wants them to be, and we see the writer vs. reader contend) chronicler, for he leaps over genres and themes with erudition and curiosity. Therefore, I find him rewarding, if often exhausting, as he plunges me into his themes and milieux without apology, or let-up. (And, as I review an advance copy of “Last Stories and Other Stories” on a Kindle Touch, I wish too for e-book versions to ease the weight and save the trees, but I do despair at the condition of ARCs and admire the illustrations and maps and sources that grace his big books, which are meant to be held and perused and “weighed” as texts.)

    But, given his appeal as he bridges the academic divide and as he speaks better to my own eclectic and populist interests (because or in spite of my Ph.D. in English lit., a result of which I remain overworked if somewhat underemployed, which may or may not correspond to WTV as he labored on that first novel on candy bars and living under his desk in Silicon Valley), I agree that Vollmann (like Pynchon to which he often if not always fairly is compared, and it took me decades after grad school to be able to enjoy Pynchon) represents a voice after postmodernism, one better suited to “conceptual” fiction and to facts which intersect and play and fuse. The pleasure I do find in reading him reminds me of how I enjoyed, straight out, David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” a year ago, and while I recognized in both authors their small flaws, they both compel me to keep at it.

    I need to check out “Y B RA” and “Afghanistan Picture Show” as I understand these are conceived as another loosely linked series ( as in “Dreams”) with “RURD.” I welcome such sprawl, and like Pynchon (or a few of Joyce’s characters), I wonder why not more talents intersperse a few figures throughout their works over the years. It’s fun to spot the resonances, within labyrinths.

  5. Jack Barton
    Jack Barton June 3, 2016 at 9:45 am . Reply

    Stumbled across this 10 seconds after finishing You Bright & Risen Angels. I really liked what you had to say, and completely agree with you about the female characters sucking and the ‘multi-axis metaphors’ – I think they confuse one another and I certainly struggled to isolate a prevailing one. The difficulty I found in sympathising with any of the characters (apart from Bug, and that was only in the first half of the novel) reminded me of a great deal of Postmodern literature I’ve read, and which I long ago became inured by, particularly after reading Infinite Jest, which (I feel) exposed what eventually became Postmodernism’s crippling limitations. I feel if I’d read this 6 years ago when I was enamoured with Pynchon etc, I’d’ve liked it a lot more, and I did like it (it’s viciously satirical, wonderfully written, often hilarious), but you just know how it’s going to end, don’t you: the digressions will dry up and disappear, and they’ll take the book and its characters, whom I never cared too much about anyway, along with it. The opening quote praises exaggeration (and Vollmann uses it cleverly and hilariously), but between that and the deadpan violence and distant characters . . I just feel it’s not enough anymore: writer’s have to be brave enough to create characters we as readers care about.
    Anyway, thanks for writing this! I live in Korea, too! Small world!

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