Taken as a whole, the works of William T. Vollman are frequently contradictory. He’s a writer drawn to the lives of outsiders who’s also written about some of the most essential and overarching subjects facing society; his bibliography encompasses both transgressive, unsettling writing and deeply accessible forays into historical and contemporary issues.
While Daniel Lukes and I faced a number of curious challenges as we worked on the project that ultimately became our 2015 William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion, I found among the most vexing the disentanglement of the myth of William T. Vollmann from the reality of his achievement. Both are oversized, so much so that they can stagger belief. The critics who had done the most extensive earlier work on his oeuvre, the great Larry McCaffery and the late Michael Hemmingson, offered both supportive words and helpful insights. Their writings were not just useful critical signposts, but dear companions at a point when it seemed no one else was interested in grappling with the tremendously fertile, book-producing singularity that is William T. Vollmann.
In the midst of a By the Book interview for the New York Times, William T. Vollmann takes a moment to discuss his appreciation of the work of Danilo Kis, author of The Encyclopedia of the Dead and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich. His interrelated characters, who occasionally make cameo appearances in each other’s stories, play vivid parts in a Stalinist drama whose grim vastness invariably swallows them up. My novel “Europe Central” was homage to Kis. Unfortunately, I tend […]